Spellslinger is delightfully fun and engaging read with some serious themes that fit the young adult genre.
I would probably sound like a broken record, but I reiterate that I’m generally not a reader of YA books. So far, the ones that I’ve enjoyed are those written by authors who’ve already carved a name for themselves writing adult fantasy books. One of these authors is Sebastien de Castell; his adult fantasy series, Greatcoats, was one which I loved. In Greatcoats, he balanced a dark and personal tale of a broken man caught up in his past with humour and wonderful characters. For Spellslinger, the tone was somewhat similar but clearly targeted at a younger audience.
Our main protagonist, Kellen, is not caught up in the past since he is only fifteen years old. Instead he’s very much concerned about his future. Kellen is part of a community of magic users called the Jan’Tep. Upon reaching the age of sixteen, he will need to undertake a magic trial which will either see him elevated to the status of a Jan’Tep mage and earn his mage’s name, or be relegated to the Sha’Tep. Sha’Teps are the ‘unfortunate’ people who cannot wield and hence become the servants to the Jan’Tep. Even one’s family members would be demoted to a servant of the house if he or she failed to spark their magic bands, a truly distasteful culture.
Six magic bands are tattooed onto the arms of Jan’Tep children from a tender age, one for each fundamental element of magic – iron, ember, silk, sand, blood and breath. There is a seventh element – shadow – which was shunned for it is the magic of the void. Born into one of the most powerful Jan’Tep families with a prodigious younger sister, Kellen is getting desperate as magic keeps alluding him. His bands won’t spark no matter how good he was with all the theoretical aspects of magic, and time was running out, fast.
As with all coming-of-age tales, our young MP has antagonists in the form of bullies who are stronger than him. In this case, the enmity was exacerbated by an already long-standing feud between his father and another prominent Jan’Tep family, whose son is on the same path as Kellen to earn his mage’s name. And it is painfully obvious here that Kellen is the underdog without any magic to call his own. This made for some very compelling character development in Kellen, young, naïve and very much a teenage boy. Especially when a mysterious woman named Ferius Parfax came along and opened his eyes and mind beyond his little Jan’Tep world.
“When you see the world outside your home town, outside the walls of what you were brought up to see, then you’ll discover that you almost never know if you’re doing the right thing. One action, brave and true, leads to war and destruction. Another, craven and greedy, leads to peace and prosperity. I’ll tell you one thing for free, though. You did what you did like a man.”
Ferius Parfax’s character is a tour-de-force. Whether it is her red hair, her swagger or her cool playing cards, she has a commanding presence in every scene she appeared in. Between her and Kellen’s newfound sidekick, Reichi, whom you’ll need to discover yourself, we have a duo of excellent supporting characters that bring out the best in our main protagonist, very much like the Greatcoats series.
The themes that are prevalent in Spellslinger do necessitate some pretty dark and disturbing moments, but it was never dwelt on for long. Also, let’s be honest with ourselves; children can be very cruel to those who don’t belong. I believe the key message contained in the story is very appropriate for young adults, who overwhelmingly feel that they need to fit in, no matter the cost. Kellen’s story show, however, that there is a price that should never be paid.
I started this book hoping that I will love it. And I finished it knowing that I will eagerly read the rest. I trusted in de Castell and was not disappointed in the least. Spellslinger is a great start to a YA series and I believe that even non-YA readers can enjoy this book.
P/S: Those unique, gorgeous covers are to die for!