It's hard to find a good murder mystery on RR, but there's at least one.
Accused isn't a particularly long novel, only about 64K words, but it packs a lot of excitement into that amount of space: murder, conspiracy, magical police, supernatural creatures. The main character wins through not on strength or charisma, but by observation, persistence, and a bit of cleverness - even against opponents with a high degree of both power and authority.
First-person is usually not my favourite, but it would have been impossible to tell this story in third-person. The style is smooth, informal, and very readable. It feels very well-suited to the story being told.
Who killed the victim? When the murderer is finally revealed, it makes perfect sense, without being obvious in advance. The struggles Levi goes through to clear his name are difficult, but he finds solutions that are plausible and outside the box.
I'm fussy about this. While I can't guarantee that there wasn't a single typo anywhere, I have no recollection of anything specific, so it must have been so uncommon that I ignored it and kept going.
The best bit of this novel. Levi is wonderfully human. Overpowered characters bore me. Levi has determination and a knack for putting the resources he has available to the best use. He notices things others don't, refuses to accept dirty compromises, and successfully navigates the world's magical dimension despite not being born to it. I consider this work to include a brilliant double bonus. Accused includes a first date with another man, with absolutely no fuss made about that. Levi is autistic, and that is also simply there, something that is sometimes inconvenient but may well be a factor in his tendency to be observant and tenacious.
If you want a good, fast-paced magical mystery, start this one. It's not only better quality than most of what I've seen on RR, it's better than some published books I've read.
TL;DR version: I broke several of my usual rules when I started reading this one, and I'm very glad I did!
In general, I avoid reading anything with subadult protagonists or magical schools, because the former often bore me and I have never read one of the latter before that I liked (yes, including that one). I will generally start disconnecting and consider abandoning a story in which the protagonist is persistently unsure who to trust.
There are exceptions to most rules, and The Cursed Heart is a major one.
The style is light and enjoyable, easy to read. Everything comes across very clearly, and it's easy to visualize events, but it doesn't bog down in excessive detail. The dialogue is smooth and believable and appropriate to the character speaking, always.
In a word, fascinating. It builds beautifully, from the initial dilemma, through Kayden's first days at school, to the gradual immersion in an increasingly-complex and potentially dangerous situation. It's not a high-action, combat-every-chapter kind of story, but there is no shortage of tense moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Also no shortage of vivid emotion, which is what you'd expect from a group of adolescents under varying kinds of pressure, but it never tips over into angst.
The world-building is intriguing, and I love the contrast of what amounts to official vs unofficial magic. So much our own world, and yet all the little changes because of the reality of curses (including info and misinfo how to handle those) and of known, trained magic-users. If the magic in question were different, those cultural changes would have to be larger to be plausible, but with this system... the changes are believable.
Flawless. I'm fussy about grammar, spelling, inaccurate use of expressions, wrong words that probably sounded right. I'll sometimes ignore it for a good reason, but I'm always aware of it. I'm not seeing any of that here. Nothing jolts the reader out of the flow.
The MC and narrator Kayden is wonderful. He's in a difficult situation that would be hard for an adult to cope with, let alone a teenager. A 14-year-old in this situation is going to have some chaotic emotions, and they're there, but balanced perfectly against the action and interaction. Kayden is more the impulsive type, doing what seems like a good idea at the time, than the mopy type who overthinks everything. This inevitably gets him into trouble, especially when he starts trying to put together the available pieces of info about the events around him and comes up with inaccurate conclusions.
The other characters balance and contrast with Kayden's impulsiveness and are very much 3D individuals in their own right, not just mirrors of Kayden or figures present purely to keep the plot moving. They all have flaws, no saints here, but also, no over-the-top sinister mastermind villain twirling his mustache. Relationships build over time, naturally and organically, and family relationships are human and believable.
There are other things that I love about this, but if I keep ranting, I'm going to start getting into spoilers. Finding well-written and highly-original fantasy that has important LGBT+ elements handled with such a light touch is a treat. In this case, it was so good I couldn't bear to wait any longer for the next chapter and headed to the author's website so I could binge-read to the end of the first volume - and I'm going back for the rest.
The grammar and spelling towards the beginning are not bad at all, and despite some imagery I found a bit distracting, I thought it had potential, and I do think there might be the seed of a good story in it.
The problem is, not only do the grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, and word choice deteriorate quickly over the course of this very short story, but I find the MC a problem. He is presented as heroic and self-sacrificing, courageous and determined. I spent the entire story with the growing impression that he is in fact ineffectual, careless, and not inclined to think through what he's doing.
So much of this story is taking place in the hottest part of the day for no obvious reason other than apparently trying to increase the tension, even though that would be the most illogical time for any of these events to be happening, and I couldn't stop that thought from constantly crossing my mind. It led to a lot of "But why...?" questions that never get even an implied answer. I don't do well with situations that are artificially complicated with no reason offered.
As far as grammar and spelling, this story's well above average and generally very smooth and clean. There are some places where the phrasing is a bit awkward and occasionally a similar but wrong word has been substituted. A couple of places had notable punctuation issues. Nothing that I found to be major.
When it comes to the content... well, it's a short story of less than 3K words, so I'm taking that into account. The setting is a fairly standard post-nuclear world, but it's described very well. We don't get much sense of the two characters, beyond the basic goal of scavenging for stuff they can sell. I'd have liked at least a little more depth.
The core premise, which I can't discuss without spoilers, isn't a new one, and I saw it coming halfway through. It wasn't approached from a novel angle or atypical perspective, and didn't otherwise offer anything thought-provoking about the subject.
Possibly because I was expecting it, the ending lacked any emotional impact for me.
So, not bad, but sadly, I can't rate it any higher.
At less than 1.5K words, this story goes fast. I can't find anything to fault in it. The grammar and spelling are great and the flow suits the story. The predicament of the MC is described vividly and ruthlessly without the story revelling in misery or hopelessness. That ghostly appearance mentioned in the synopsis simply fits. Nothing else I can say.
It's hard to know what to say about the content that isn't a spoiler. This story is beautifully written - the pacing and build-up are great, the characters are believable and sympathetic, the prose flows easily and comfortably. I noticed a handful of what were obviously just typoes, but who doesn't have a few of those? There is a lot of story packed into less than 13K words!
I identify more or less as non-binary. This is the first thing here I've read to my trans roommate, who also enjoyed it thoroughly for the intensity and realism of how the author handled gender as well as the excellent writing.