In Numina by Assaph Mehr {SPFBO5 Semi-finalist}

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I’m always looking for something I haven’t seen before in fantasy, so when I heard this was a murder mystery set in ancient Rome, I was sold. 

The plot is evident from early on which creates a fast-paced introduction. You should know by 10% if you’re going to like the plotline or not. Three apartment buildings have become haunted, there are rumors flying around that speak of strange noises, floors shifting around, screams heard in the dead of night – and most importantly, people are dying. The owner of the apartments is getting desperate, he hires someone called Felix the Fox to help investigate what’s going on and to try and stop it. The owner is actually a relative of a woman he used to… uh… “date”. Felix sort of gets around and this lady (Cornelia) from way back when throws his name out there when she hears of her cousin’s troubles. (Yes, they totally start banging again) Cornelia has a nineteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, and she is to accompany him on his investigations. Things, of course, get fuckin’ real when they go to the apartments and find a disemboweled family. Felix had anticipated a prank or something else, but, clearly not. 

I thought the world-building was excellent, the magic system in this is semi-structured. It’s not quite like a Sanderson or Rowe book, but there’s definitely a formula to it all. There are specific chants, animal sacrifices, and lead tablets that contain curses that can be used. Felix can smell and taste ‘magia’, and is able to determine what kind of magic was used based on that. He also describes magic as having a certain kind of texture to it, but he hasn’t gone through the training one needs to “see the flows of magia”. Other more trained wizards are able to track the flow of magic by sight. There are specific ways it can and can’t be used and I thought it was well fleshed out.

I haven’t seen many fantasies set in ancient Rome, so the backdrop to everything felt very new and fresh which gave it big points in originality. There was particular attention paid to the food, none of it sounded appealing to me, but it was interesting to read about. I consider myself a layperson when it comes to knowledge about ancient Rome outside of what I was taught in high school and the random documentary on TV. It would be interesting to hear how accurate everything was from someone who’s read this book and also considers themselves a history buff in this area. This could have an appeal to people who enjoy historical fiction, I think. 

Felix is a complex character who is absolutely smack in the middle of the ‘grey’ area. He had moments of genuine affection, I felt sympathetic towards his situation more than once… but I also found him getting under my skin far too often to really warm up to him. If you’re going to write a grey character and put in glaring flaws that most people would find irritating to read about… there needs to be redeeming factors. Not necessarily morally redeeming, but something to make it worth the irritation or distaste. Glokta is not a likable person, he’s terrible, but he’s also fascinating. Jalan is an ass, but he’s also funny. I found Felix interesting, but not fascinating enough to really counter the amount of sexism he showed. If there had just been just a couple lines that addressed his inner thoughts on women it would have been enough to signal to the reader he’s kind of a jerk. But, it just kept happening where he would wonder why men get married, and thought of them as fickle, untrustworthy, lesser than himself… he thinks of their emotions as silly adolescent things, they need to be protected and can’t handle themselves etc etc.

There was also a romance in this that didn’t really settle well with me, it involves a love triangle between the mother, Cornelia, this dude Felix, and the daughter. Lol, I dunno. When she literally flung herself on him and said “deny this!” after he tried to rebuke her… I just found myself wanting to stop. Not my jam. That and their first kiss happens on the same page where he described her as “adolescent”, which given his age, made it uncomfortable for me. 

The writing had a style to it, but it was more subtle. It shows up mostly in the dialogue which comes off as ‘formal’ (for lack of a better word). It does read like a natural dialogue, it’s not like I found myself saying “no one talks like that, stahp”. It sounded similar to the way you’d send an email or message to a colleague you don’t know well. There’s a touch of world-building delivered via dialogue for a naive character, which is one of those things that can get on my nerves if it happens too often, or if that person should already know everything being discussed. It wasn’t a frequent thing and there was a decent reason she needed things explained so I didn’t get overly bothered by it. 

This was a book that both hit it out of the park for me in the world-building and had a character that annoyed the shit out of me and made me want to stop. When things like that happen it gets very difficult to write a review. Despite my distaste for the MC, he had depth and definitely had his own motivations and voice. It’ll be one of those times the personal enjoyment score and a final score are very different. This was highly recommended on the SPFBO FB page when I asked for people’s favorite submissions – and I absolutely see an audience for it. I actually found the plot to be one of the weaker points. The MC finds out who was behind it pretty easily, there wasn’t much in the way of misdirection or buried clues which is what I like in mysteries. I’d like to see more of this world from a different character’s perspective. 

 TOOFUCKINGLONGDIDNTREAD: Ancient roman murder mystery adventure. A semi-structured magic system based around curses, enchantments, and flows of magic. Written concisely it reads quickly. Could appeal to historical fiction fans. Grey characters, romance, gruesome deaths, love triangle, haunted apartment buildings


  • Plot: 11.5/15
  • Characters 12.25/15
  • World Building 13.5/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 13/15
  • Originality 13.5/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 5/10 

Final Score: 80.75/100 or 4 stars on GR 

Mark as TBR on GR

Get it on Amazon