What is this about?: Kellen wants nothing more than to be a mage, except for the slight problem that he has no magic. And his family are really all raging assholes that ruined his life.
What else is this about?: Fear. This is also a book about conforming, and to quote JKR, being the brave one that stands up to their friends when they’re going something stupid.
Blurb: “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.
So, reading this blurb it occurs to me that it is messed up. Sighs. Whyyyy!
The thing is, when Spellslinger opens, Kellen is already aware he may very well have no magic whatsoever. He doesn’t need a failed magical duel to tell him that, but a failed magical duel does let his secret out to everyone, which in a town about to vote for their leader, who has to have a family of strong mages to be a powerful — note not good, power matters — he’s a liability to his father, who is one of the lead contenders for the position.
Let’s talk about the plot first
It’s a little bit Rebel of the Sands, I think, with the Western flavour, coupled with magic. Kellen has no power, or has enough for it to be of no consequence to anything whatsoever. But he’s intelligent, even if he is insecure about that. This is a society that relies on magic so much that nothing else matters — not your wits or your agility, because if you have strong magic, you win.
Kellen, however, has had to rely on all those things to keep his secret and survive.
Into this world comes Ferius Parfax, a drifter in essence with no magic either. She lives by her wits and doesn’t care for the town’s rules — she doesn’t revere mages, and that power means nothing to her because she’s lived her life without relying on it. She’s quick witted and sort of takes Kellen under her wing when his life and his family begin to fall apart when his secret comes out.
That is the straw that breaks the camel’s back in a way, and Kellen finds himself navigating his town and his people in a different way entirely — as his eyes open slowly to the politics within a town and a people he calls his own.
There’s a lot more to the plot of course, but if I give you any more details, it’s going to spoil so much. The best part though are the next two sections of this review.
Kellen’s arc is so compelling — this is a boy who has lived his whole life knowing where his place has to be in society. Without magic, he has nothing to look forward to, and his arc within this book is painful to read because it opens his eyes to the world and the people he loves to see the truth of them.
Ferius is his guide, of sorts, helping him open his eyes, in a way to his world and to hers. She sweeps into town and disrupts the conformity with ease, wielding her lack of magic and cards with glee. Those with magic immediately assume she’s evil, naturally, which just causes her to laugh more.
Kellen loves his family, and he’d die for them. But Kellen’s lessons about his people are lessons about his family, and neither are pleasant. Also, can I say, his sister is an insufferable egotist, but I can’t deny she loves her brother.
Then there’s Reichis, the talking squirrel cat. Think Jimney Cricket but homicidal and sassy. No, snarky. So much snark.
There is always something happening in this story, if it’s characterisation or plot related and as a result, by the time I reached the last quarter of the book, I couldn’t figure out how I’d got there! I love it when I feel like that about a book. Which means by the end I’m like WHUTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT.
Spellslinger is a rich, complicated world, and Kellen is only just now realising how much bigger his own world is — more importantly, that his world can be bigger.