Author: Sebastian de Castell
Rating: 3 Stars
Dates read: 08 Apr 18 – 02 Jun 18
Publication date: 04 May 2017
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre(s): YA; Fantasy
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 . . .
It’s been a little while since I finished this book. It’s taken me a while to actually decide what I thought of this book, and to fairly assess the characters and the story, because let’s face it, it took me a while to read. I started this book in April and I just couldn’t get into it, but I liked the idea of the story that much that I didn’t want to put it down and never pick it back up. So, when MarvelAThon rolled around, I restarted it and devoured it in the space of 2 days, a stark contrast to the months I’d gone struggling with it before. You’re probably seeing my dilemma…so…this review will probably be haphazard and contradictory, because that’s how my reading experience was.
Let’s start with the good. This premise is amazing. I love the idea of advancing and progressing magical skills that require assessment to become a Jan’Tep (Maji of the de Castell world) or forever be cast out to be part of the save Sha’tep world. I love the idea of competing magical families that have agendas and rulers and hidden secrets. I like the idea of talking animals and of badass female warriors that come in and save the day. All of this I really like and think make a good story basis.
The problem is that it’s messy. I was reading this book the first time round and couldn’t understand how I wasn’t wrapped up in the story and suddenly realised it was because I wasn’t reading the whole thing in one go. Every time I put the book down I lost the thread of the book that kept my place and made me understand the story when it picked up again, and after discussing it with friends found that they felt the same. I never have this issue with books, which leads me to believe it’s the writing style or editing, and that’s sad because it took away from what could have been so great.
It’s so rare in novels to have a protagonist of social standing that is lacking in ability/opportunity, especially when they’re male. It’s rare to see them genuinely battling adversity and doing their best to overcome it without resorting to underhand tactics. It’s rare to then have a female character, who herself carries the shady past and uncertain identity usually afforded to the male mentors of said stories. It was so refreshing, yet at the same time, sometimes felt so stale.
There were so many unusual and fascinating family dynamics, especially within the familial house that Kellen belongs too. His sister is infinitely more powerful than he is, and most probably his parents, and although this is touched upon it’s never truly explored. His father has unquestionable power and authority, and his wife is definitely more important than we are shown, but again, this is left more as a statement of fact than a story or plot point. It feels very much like a collection of ideas relating to their family and less a story that flows. I was pleased they explored the uncle that failed to progress his magical abilities, and was more than just a Sha’Tep parallel that would show what Kellan would become if he didn’t pass his trials, but even this felt rushed and messy.
I don’t really know what else to say other than this book somewhat disappointed me, and I felt disappointed itself. I love the story idea and definitely want to read more books in the series, so I can’t rate it too low, but it was confused and disjointed to a point that distracted from the story and required me to re-read the first third.