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 is such a fun book. I’ll be honest and say that it did take me a little while to get into it at first, but once I was invested in the story I was totally along for the ride–that seems to be my experience with de Castell’s writing in general.
One thing that Sebastien de Castell excels at is writing characters and making you care about them. You really feel for Kellen with everything he’s going through in this book, even though he maybe isn’t always the least annoying person. That’s a tricky thing to do and somehow de Castell pulls it off. I think he’s got a great handle on writing teenagers here and making them especially…teenager-y at times. All of those usual things you have to deal with growing up, and trying to fit in, and then throw magic, politics, and family betrayal into the mix and there’s quite a lot for our protagonist to handle. Fortunately for Kellen, and for us, Ferius comes onto the scene to help Kellen out. Ferius is such a fun character, full of wise-cracks and a give no crap attitude. I love her. She’s really the perfect mentor for Kellen.
There are quite a few characters in this short book, but I found it really easy to keep track of who is who throughout–everyone is very distinct from one another. You may find yourself questioning at times who is the actual villain of the story, and I don’t know that there’s always an easy answer to that here because of the multiple things at work both in the main plot and the bigger picture of the world. There are some really interesting plot twists and revelations throughout the book which I appreciated as a reader.
I think the world of Spellslinger is especially interesting. The idea of being disowned from your own family if you can not pass the magical trial, becoming anathema to your own society, having your own friends and family reject you and pretend you no longer exist, and sometimes becoming nothing more than a servant…man, that’s cold. I loved how we got to experience this through Kellen’s eyes, and the revelations of how the society he’s always loved and taken for granted that he’ll become a part of may not be so wonderful once he has trouble passing the trial. That panic of not being able to remain at that level begins to expose all the flaws in the system. Yeah, it’s good when you’re at the top and you don’t really question things, but when you suddenly find yourself at the bottom things start looking a lot different. One of my favorite things is when characters start thinking about the world they live in and questioning it instead of never trying to see what’s behind the curtain, or even acknowledging that there is a curtain at all.
Spellslinger is a book that says a lot about society while remaining a fun coming of age adventure and I can’t wait to read the next one. 4/5 stars.