Author: Sebastien de Castell
Series: Spellslinger #1
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 simply to reach the age of sixteen. 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. Ferius Parfax is one of the mysterious Argosi – a traveller who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She’s difficult and unpredictable, but she may be Kellen’s only hope…
A world full of magic for a Young Adult book? Sign me in!! Actually, I was expecting something way lighter. This is a great book, but sometimes I wondered if being labeled as a Young Adult book is proper. It is not as anything as I have read before in that genre. A truly surprsing story that, sadly, has triggered some of my personal defense mechanisms; provoking a reduction of my enjoyment.
This is a tory told from the point of view of Kellen, a 15-years-old initiate who is about to begin his trials to become a mage. Too bad his magic is weaker than ever and the poor guy will have to resort to tricks and smarts to get his mage name. And if that isn’t enough, he also has to cope with the arrival of a suspected spy, the return of an ancient enemy and a conspiracy that could shake the very foundation of the Jan’Tep society. How hard can that be for a kid who can barely manage any kind of magic?
I will start talking about the magical land where we travel to witness the first adventure of Kellen and company. Lacking a better word to describe the worldbuilding I will simply say that it is awesome. I love the simplicity of the lore above which this story unfolds. The Jan’Tep are a group of people whose whole existance spins around magic and the oasis that feeds it. If by the age of 16 you haven’t earned your mage name, you become a Sha’Tep, the servants that little by little are becoming slaves. There are seven types of magic, being the shadow one totally banned. Every newborn in the Jan’Tep society gets inked with bands symbolizing the other six. Through study, they have to spark those bands in order to be able to access that kind of magic. As I have said before, rather simple, but it is a concept masterfully exploited for the benefit of the story.
In that reality we find Kellen. At first I wasn’t on board about the story being told in first person through his point of view. I wanted to explore all the corners of that world and that is not usually possible with books that only tell you the story from one perspective. But my fears were quickly set aside once I got to know the guy. Kellen is a remarkable kid that has made this book a greater experience than I thought. He is loyal, but not blind. He is friendly, but not gulible. Smart, but not pretentious. And he also has a sense of humor that could make me laugh in the most unexpected situations. A sense of humor a bit more caustic than what we usually find in this genre, but it has been a welcome surprise. The author has bet everything on the main character and it has paid off. The bonds as a reader that I have forged with the young iniatiate have made me have a more emotional investment in the plot.
And yes, lots of emotions are put on the front lines of this book. Kellen’s last days before becoming a truly mage or a Sha’Tep have torn me many times. Sometimes I just wanted to scream my frustation, others I wanted to avenge the cruelty he has to endure and others I just wanted to cry while facing his sorrow. It is a hard book not suitable for people who can’t stomach unrelenting injustice enforced against a teenager. Actually, I was so surprised by the heavy emotional toll that I had to check again if this book is truly sold as a Young Adult novel… It has made me feel so much hate. His parents are monsters. His sister is a maniac. His best friend is a backstabbing idiot. And the rest of the Jan’Tep are even worse. Even Nephenia sometimes fails to fulfill her role as a friend. Kellen suffers a lot of hits in a really short span of time… His pain became my pain to endure.
Do not worry. The book is much more than a cauldron for outrage and tears. The plot is pretty interesting with several twists and revelations. There is not a single moment to rest and the pages just fly before your eyes thanks to the short chapters and the fast pace. Maybe, just myabe, too many secrets are revealed. I mean, this is the first of six books… Has the author kept something for the rest? There is still a lot of world to explore, so I hope he has!! I can’t wait to get to know better Kellen and his familiar… I mean, business partner. And I truly hope the Jan’Tep society changes its ways, because it is rotten to its core.
The book should have been perfect, but there are a couple of details that made me frown a little or a lot. One of them is the annoying vice of Ferius: her constant smoking. I hate with a passion the use of that disgusting habit so freely. And in this case it is even worse due to the fact that it is a book meant for teenagers… teenagers who are in those years where that gross temptation starts knocking their doors. Reading a character that uses smoking as a weapon can send the wrong message to malleable minds. The other black sheep of Spellslinger is the use of body shaming insults and comments throughout the whole story. Those are just wrong and I am a bit sad that noone made some kind of reproach to the people using them. Once again, wrong message for teenagers.
Overall, the book is amazing and I will keep reading them. I just need to know if Kellen’s life is going to be better now or just the opposite…