Funnily enough, I actually almost got two copies of this book. I got one from Hot Key’s blogger list, and then won another online, but asked them not to send it to me, as I would be reviewing it anyway.
I think I liked this book enough to get two copies of it though. A Western-Eastern fusion, with lone gunslingers, a magic system based on elemental uses, and desperate inequality between the have(magics) and the have-nots, I really enjoyed this book even more than I thought I was going to.
“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.”
Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.
Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.
I really, really enjoyed this book. Not least because of the use of different magic systems and worldbuilding which, it is evident, will become more crucial in the later books in the series, but for a whole bunch of other reasons as well.
The book started off with a punch, which I always like, as a poor first chapter can really put me off. Kellen begins the book about to enter a duel with another mage, only it turns out he’s not really magically adept, so he’s relying on his skill in trickery. I loved the fact that not only does Kellen start out the book being useless at the one thing that really matters in his life – magic – he stays that way. Throughout the book, he doesn’t suddenly discover that he’s actually more adept than anyone else, but in a different way, but rather he finds ways to use his own weakness and the other talents he’s got up his sleeve – namely intellect, trickery, and quick thinking – to make his way through a period of intense turmoil in his desert settlement.
Jan’Tep society as a whole is deeply flawed, with the weaknesses pointed out through the book, not only through Kellen’s own musings but also in the systemic inequality of the system which allows unrest to grow. Kellen’s sister is perhaps the most disappointing character in the book, as her personality doesn’t shine through at any point really, but the rest of the cast are shining stars of depth and nuance. Bonds of family, of clan, of loyalty, and of the tug to do the right thing pull Kellen and his companions in different directions, and no choice is an easy one. I really enjoyed the variety and depth of not only characters, but also their reactions to situations and the moral and ethical dilemmas they faced. As well as some of their entirely over the top and ridiculous reactions in their quest for power.
Let’s talk for a second about my two favourite characters – Ferius Parfax, a mysterious roaming stranger. Could be a spy, could be a mage, could be a traitor, is definitely a woman of great intellect, and a force for … something. We don’t know what yet. She’s strange and other, but I can’t wait to find out more about her. And then there’s Reichis. A vicious, sardonic, bloodthirsty talking squirrel cat with a filthy mouth and a resentful debt to pay, he is my aboslute favourite thing about this book. By turns funny and tragic, his exasperated and violent advice is almost never helpful but almost always adds nuance and humour to the book. More than just comic relief, Reichis also adds a depth to the backstory.
The final chapters of the book expanded hugely on what had preceded it, flagging that this is the first of a six-book series, but the story concluded in a way which left me satisfied that the arc was complete and a larger story was yet to come. My main complaint is that a) it hasn’t even been published yet, which means b) it’s going to be ages until Shadowblack, the second in the series, comes out!
Five Stars and highly recommended.