The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (The Atlas #1)
The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation.
When the newest candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation, during which time they will be permitted preliminary access to the Society’s archives and judged based on their contributions to various subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, life and death. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will.
Most of them.
TITLE: The Atlas Six
AUTHOR: Olivie Blake with Steve West (Narrator), Caitlin Kelly (Narrator), James Patrick Cronin (Narrator), Damian Lynch (Narrator), David Monteith (Narrator), Andy Ingalls (Narrator), Siho Ellsmore (Narrator), Munirih Grace (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Macmillan Audio
LENGTH: 373 pages (16 hours 5 minutes)
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s).
DNF 10 hours 15 minutes in (64%).
I was initially drawn in by the premise, a group of magicians brought to the Library of Alexandria have a year to decide which one of them will be eliminated and which five get to stay for another year. The cast of characters is pretty diverse (though a bit of that initial feeling of diversity was dampened when I realized all of them seemed to have English as their first language, which instantly shrunk the practical candidate pool). Part of the story questions the validity and methods of the entire enterprise, so that leaves some wiggle room for explaining why the candidates aren't actually very diverse (only six total, and two are from the same school in the USA?). Additionally, this could have been the library of Atlantis or Boston and it would have had just as much relevance to the plot. The latest incarnation of the "Library of Alexandria" is physically located in London, in the UK. It became clear pretty quickly that "Alexandria" is just a name, and an indication of thousands of years of whatever this thing is (or at least a claim to that long legacy). There are vague descriptions of the category of study and experiments which the candidates are pursuing, but most of the story is actually a very intense and complicated web of power plays and personal dynamics between the six candidates and the two Alexandrians who oversee them (mostly one of them). There's a pretty intense sex scene about halfway through which I actually didn't mind, but it felt like a sudden shift in tone from the rest of the book.
The characters seemed initially pretty interesting, but there's very little description of how their powers actually work. There are discussions of magical theory which I enjoyed, but they were usually couched in ways where the magic is actually secondary, which made them feel unmoored from the world being built.
It's six (sometimes eight) people in a house, talking to each other and slowly changing how they feel about one another, which is not what I was expecting in a book about "magicians living in the Library of Alexandria".
Ultimately I stopped because it became clearly stated that the whole thing is a slow burn trolley problem, and I don't like trolley problem situations.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, classism, emotional abuse, murder, suicide, death.
Moderate CW for cursing, grief, sexism, toxic friendship, blood, violence, injury detail, gun violence.
Minor CW for fire, child death.