I was intrigued by the cover and the rather nifty title – and when I looked at the opening paragraph, I decided to get hold of it. But it languished on my TBR pile until I got hold of the second book – and decided I had to read it.
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.
This YA coming-of-age adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Kellen is an appealing protagonist who inexplicably has no magical ability despite his family’s great power and influence. In this world where magic is everything, his lack of magical talent will doom him to a life of servitude and drudgery – like his uncle, who instead of being a respected member of the council and adviser to Kellen’s father, instead runs the household. Kellen cannot quite believe that his magic won’t at some stage manifest itself. I really enjoyed the first-person narration and the shafts of humour.
The way the plot continually produced more surprises and Kellen’s strong character drew me in and kept the pages turning. It doesn’t hurt that the squirrel cat is also great fun with a lovely line in sarcastic putdowns. It is always a challenge when depicting someone discovering that their whole way of life and value system is based on lies and exploitation, but de Castell does a very good job as Kellen slowly discovers some very disturbing secrets. I enjoyed the magic system and really liked the idea that magic would tattoo its power upon the magic-user’s skin. However, the problem with the first-person narrative is that with so much going on, the worldbuilding at times suffered. That said, this is the first book in the series and I’m hoping in due course, we will have a clearer idea of the environment and exactly what it looks like.
While the story was satisfactorily wrapped up with the really unpleasant antagonists sorted out and Kellen’s future, at least in the short term, resolved, there was a major plot point left dangling to tempt us to get hold of the next book in the series. I’m delighted that I already have a Netgalley arc of Shadowblack and look forward to tucking into it very soon. This book is recommended for fantasy lovers of magical systems and a strong first-person protagonist.