‘The second trial comes to an end and you have failed it,’ she said, without a trace of sympathy in her voice. ‘Now you fear you will fail the third as well.’
‘How can I create a spell using two disciplines when I can’t break even one of my bands.’
‘I told you once before; do not ask questions to which you already know the answer.’
‘Then … it’s over. My sixteenth birthday is in a few days. I’m never going to be a mage. I’m going to be a Sha’Tep.’
I felt myself becoming dizzy, as if just saying the words had drained the strength from my limbs. Mer’esan held my arms. ‘You will never be a Jan’Tep mage like your father and mother. Whether you become a Sha’Tep servant like your Uncle is up to you.’
(Spellslinger – Sebastian de Castell. P163.)
Kellan is at the start of his mage trials. Pass, and he will become a Jan’Tep mage, and help rule society. Fail, and he will become a Sha’Tep servant. Kellan’s magic has faded, and he has four weeks to get it back. Otherwise, he is destined to a life of servitude.
Enter Ferius Parfax, and the most interesting deck of cards since Wonderland. Ferius says she is an Argosi traveller. Everybody else reckons she is a Daroman spy, sent to influence the forthcoming election of the new Clan Prince.
In Jan’Tep society, family strength is more important than individual strength. With the election fought between Kellan’s father, and scheming Ra’meth, Kellan is the card everybody is trying to play right. There is only one problem – Kellan may have no magic, but he has a great talent in thinking for himself.
Challenged by Ferius Parfax to look for his own answers, and the three-hundred year-old Dowager Magus to ask the right questions, Kellan uncovers some uncomfortable truths about his society, and decides who he wants to be.
To decide who he wants to be, Kellan must learn about the people around him. Does he get any say? At the start, he believes his future as a Sha’Tep servant is inevitable. The book explores the degree to which individual decisions can be made when society seems to prescribe our roles. Ferius Parfax enters Kellan’s life as the ultimate outsider, and shows him the wider picture.
I loved Ferius Parfax. She’s a non-stereotypical female, (straight-talking, smoke-blowing, free-thinking,) but she also has a story. We only start to understand this at the end of the story. With five more novels due in the series, I hope we will learn more about Ferius’s history. Ferius was not the only interesting female character. There’s Nephenia, who puts up with male prejudice to earn her name as a mage, and Kellan’s sister Shalla, the most powerful of all the initiates. Shalla is treated as a kind of substitute-son by her parents. With Kellan’s magic weakened, their hope is placed in Shalla’s strength. Will Shalla reject Kellan, as their father rejected his Sha’Tep brother? Shalla is a character to watch.
The other fascinating character is the Dowager Magus, wife of the late Clan Prince. If Ferius teaches Kellan to look for the answers, the Dowager Magus challenges him to ask the relevant questions. Her character forms a sub-plot, the final scene of which is beautiful.
The world is fascinating. We learn about the different societies mainly in relation to the Jan’Tep, and the Oases which is the source of Jan’Tep magic, but there is enough detail to give us a clear picture of the difference between the societies, and to whet our appetite for the coming novels. I love the fact the history of relations between the different societies was used to inform us about each society’s present condition. De Castell has a clear sense of how a society is not ‘static’ – there is so much more beneath the surface of the present day.
If I used a star rating system, I would give Spellslinger five of the shiniest stars. Fantasy is my comfort zone, as is YA fiction with themes of political injustice, but Spellslinger said something about that theme which I have not heard before, and the story is a real page turner. Each character is on their own journey, and the relations between the characters change with new revelations. It is also beautifully written – De Castell writes the kind of sentence you say out loud to savour, and makes great use of telling description.
Don’t be put off by the fact this is the first in a large series. The adventure may start here, but as a stand-alone, the novel has a satisfying resolution. True magic.
I won my copy in a Readers First draw. This does not affect the honesty of my review. Many thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy.
Hot Key Books
Page Count: 396