Though I finished three books this week–First Life by Gena Showalter, Forever Odd by Dean Koontz, and The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman–the one I want to write about the most is The Cost of All Things. This is the kind of book that so many writers, including me, aspire to write: one that is complex and emotional and eventful and layered and beautiful and painful. In short, it describes life, and it made me feel more alive to read it. It’s brilliant.

the cost of all things cover

That being said, it’s based on what some would say is a totally impossible premise, is told from four separate points of view, and shifts back and forth throughout the entire book from present to past and back again. Surely, it would seem to be contradictory that such a story could be described as “brilliant.” I assure you that it is, though.


The premise is that there are a group of high-school friends that have available to them the services of a “hekamist,” a witch who can provide them with various potions. In the first few pages, we learn that Ari, one of the main characters, is so distraught over the recent death of her boyfriend Win that she gets a spell from the hekamist to erase his memory from her head. “All spells have side effects,” she’s told, meaning that in order for there to be balance, she must expect an equally powerful but unknown consequence to the gift of getting rid of that pain. Ari takes the spell, forgets Win, and finds out that she is no longer an amazing ballerina, a skill that was to be the basis of her future career.

What Makes it Brilliant?

The things that’s brilliant about this story is that, the story progresses through of the eyes of Kay, Markos, and Win, who are all part of the same group of friends, it becomes this amazingly fleshed out emotional roller coaster. Each character has his or her distinct voice and a distinct role to play in the progression of the downward spiral that is The Cost’s plot. It does not spiral downward in quality but towards the revelation of the cause of Win’s death some months before, and as it gets closer to that revelation, more and more spells are sought–or sought but not taken–by different characters, further complicating their lives. Indeed, when I finished The Cost, I had to write out the plot linearly from an objective point of view to make sure I understood what had happened and why. For the two of you who care about that, you can find that description here (caution: spoiler alert).

So, if I were to rank this book according to Amazon’s or Goodread’s five-star system, I would give it a full five stars. But that doesn’t seem enough. Indeed, for that reason and because I read a ton of books and need a more sophisticated ranking system with which to describe and differentiate all those books, I’m going to start something new. I hereby unveil the (drum roll please) 10-star system. This means that a book can rank anywhere between 0 and 10 stars, with 10 being the best, with points distributed like this:

  • 2 for plot quality (engaging, solidly-crafted, unique?),
  • 2 for characterization quality (engaging, interesting, unique?),
  • 2 for premise (coolness, uniqueness, relevance to my life)
  • 2 for style or quality of writing
  • 2 for emotional connection

How Many Stars Out of 10 Does This Book Get?

On this scale, The Cost of All Things gets a 10.

Watch for my reviews of First Life (which was also amazing) and Forever Odd (somewhat less so) in the coming days.

Disclosure: I bought this book on my own. 

Book Review: The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman: Brilliant

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