In a society where power, status, and freedom are only given to those with magic, Kellen has a problem. Despite being from a powerfully magical family, and with only days to go before he either demonstrates his powers or is enslaved, Kellen’s magic has yet to appear.
It’s not a great situation to be in, and his personal problems pale into insignificance compared to the increasingly unstable political situation – an internal power vacuum, spies from a hostile kingdom, and the re-appearance of an extinct enemy. Kellen has little time(and even less power) to fix anything, but apparently it’s all his responsibility.
The setting is non-standard – it’s low fantasy but with more magic than normal, displaying little technology but with aesthetics somewhere between Arabian Nights and Westerns. It’s difficult to place the world against an equivalent mundane era, or tie it to a specific mythology. There’s a definite Eastern influence, but not to the exclusion of all else. I like things like that – it takes longer to work out what’s going on, but the creatures and magic are fresh.
The tone initially reads as though the book was written for youngish teenagers, but the book is darker than you’d expect from that, in the same manner as Skulduggery Pleasant or The Edge Chronicles. The themes are dark – genocide, parental betrayal, torture – and the author doesn’t shy away from violence. This book hits relatively hard on the action and the emotional punches.
One of the big draws of fantasy for me is the flavour of magic – the usage/descriptions of miraculous things and woven energies. I was slightly saddened to discover that this book does little with that, as few of the central characters can use magic, either effectively or at all. When magic is described though, it’s beautiful; in fact, descriptions are strong throughout.
Kellen’s an okay protagonist, but the supporting cast is a lot stronger. He’s a bit of a blank slate, blundering around without understanding until the very, very end. Meanwhile, the supporting cast if filled with nuanced and complex characters. There are definitely some stereotypical power-crazed mages and the like, but there are several small parts that could carry a novel on their own.
The society presented in the book is an odd one – it works superficially, but starts to fall apart as the book progresses, and that’s only partly because of the plot. The culture presented is filled with inconsistencies and details that only make sense as plot vehicles, not as part of a supposedly-functional society. The specific details are different to The Hunger Games, but it’s the same kind of thing – a society built on plot hooks, with high-stakes teenage competition and adult oppression that everyone is completely fine with. The moment you start to think through the implications and practicalities of Spellslinger‘s society, it all falls apart. It’s an interesting world, but not a convincing one.
I think it’s fair to call this an origin story for the titular spellslinger – it’s filled with sequel seeds, and seems almost more a prequel than a first novel. The book ends with the spellslinger setting off to sling spells, and the major focus is on how the character gets to that point.
I liked this book – it was original, well-described, and contained several characters I wanted to see more of. It’s not without flaws, but I’m hoping that those are teething troubles. The constructed society seems as though it will feature less in later books, and I’m definitely going to read them.