*YA Book Review* Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell
‘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…’
Spellslinger tells the story of Kellen, a young mage who hasn’t yet sparkedhis ‘bands’; the key to channelling and controlling the six different forms of Jan’Tep magic. Kellen’s family are one of the most powerful Jan’Tep clans and his younger sister is a prodigy, which adds to his feelings of inadequacy. Kellen meets Ferius Parfax, an Argosi wanderers who introduces him to a different kind of magic and to the secrets of his people.
Spellslinger is a book that I really enjoyed, it was fast-paced, original, and didn’t get too caught up in the usual YA tropes. I mean, it does include them, obviously, for example, awkward love interest, bullies seemingly around every corner, and a young boy who has lost his friends and is a little different to everyone else. Cliché right? Wrong. What the author has done is created a YA book that focuses less on these stereotypes, and has channelled the story through Kellen’s intelligence.
As I mentioned above, there is an awkward love interest angle within the story but it is very minimal, and only used when it should be. One of the main gripes I have about modern YA is the constant focus on the lone solo hero who is crazy in love with another character but can’t seem to find the words, and so on, and so forth. For me, the author has included it but has kept it appropriate, no overly done mushy nonsense.
One of my favourite things about Spellslinger is the world that has been created by the author. Whilst the focus is on the Jan’Tep people, there are constant hints throughout to other countries, specifically Daroman and its ‘Fat King’. I like the fact that this this whole world can be introduced subtly throughout the novel without re-shifting focus or taking away from the tale being told of Kellen.
The Jan’Tep people are powerful, proud, and, ultimately, elitist. The author manages to story the people and give the reader a good picture of Jan’Tep society before introducing conflicting views and sowing doubt in the reader’s mind. This works brilliantly and I was drawn in almost immediately to the story and the intrigue.
Before reading Spellslinger, I had found myself growing increasingly despondent with the bulk of YA available at the moment. To archetypal and too (dare I say it) girly (I know, misogynistic pig right here). What I mean by that is, I was finding that I couldn’t relate to the female antagonist, particularly within this genre, and it was causing me to miss out on a boat load of good writing and good books. However, every now and then I find a gem, and this is certainly one of them.
The writing is soo smooth that I found myself racing through the book and cutting through 100 pages a night, after work!! Almost unheard of recently for me but honestly, it flowed so well and was just FUN! I loved the characters, even those that I couldn’t actually like, and I think it was one helluva series-starter.
In order to provide some balance and to ensure I don’t use 700 words just purely gushing over the book (which would be easy to do) I have thought about a few things that I didn’t like. The first is the sometimes over-brooding of Kellen. YeahI get it, he’s a 15-year-old boy who hasn’t found his place in society because he can’t use his magic and is jealous of his sister. But, it could have been toned down slightly in places, to the point where I found myself getting annoyed with him.
Another factor that I didn’t like was Kellen’s constant attempts to spark his bands, when in actual fact, you just knew it would fail. I felt that this could have been done once or twice, just not too much and the author flirted with it a little too long for me.
Other than the two notes above, I can’t actually think of anything else. And to be fair, the things I don’t like may be down to the genre itself and not so much the author. Just a thought though.
So, to summarise, this book is flipping fantastic (I debated on using another f-based curse word but decided against it). It’s got cool-as-hell magic, a cracking antagonist (as well as a few intriguing others), and a whole lot of originality about it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that reads fantasy, there’s something here for pretty much every reader. The best thing is that the second book Shadowblack is already out (and added to my pile!!!!) so you can dive straight back in!
A very firm 4.5/5 for me and a newfound love for the fantasy YA genre. Thanks Mr De Castell, you Canadian-connoisseur-of-fantasy you!
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