Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Spellslinger (Book #1 of 6)
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 416 pages (Hardcover edition)
Published: 4th May 2017 by Hot Key Books
Spellslinger is a highly entertaining and engrossing start to this hexalogy.
Normally when I see a promising sounding book and notice that it is YA, I immediately lower my expectations for it as I have not always had the best experience with the genre. That has steadily changed over the last few years though, as more and more YA books have surprised me. When Spellslinger quietly showed up on my radar, though, I had no such reservations. I love Sebastien de Castell’s writing that much and will give him the benefit of the doubt any day of the week, and I am thrilled to say that it did not betray my trust in the least.
The story kicks off with a duel between two students of a magic school, with one duelist being Kellen, the protagonist of the story. Born of a powerful mother & father magician duo, and with a sibling seemingly destined to become one of the greatest mages of their time, Kellan is under tremendous pressure to discover his magic by sparking his bands and thus proving himself worthy of his family name. But the bands just won’t come to life.
All children of the Jan’Tep are tattooed with six metallic bands at a very young age, which they will eventually spark by breaking the bindings between the sigils. Sparking more bands is better. The most powerful mages have access to all six types of magic, but sparking even a single band is MUCH better than sparking none.
There are seven fundamental sources of magical force, but Jan’Tep mages are banded with only six: iron, ember, silk, sand, blood and breath. No mage is ever banded with the seventh, because shadow is the magic of emptiness, of the void, of the demonic. Our ancient enemies, the Mahdek, drew upon shadow for their spells. That’s why the Mahdek are long dead.
The duel is part of a greater challenge whereby young would-be mages attempt to earn their mage name in a series of trials; the duel being the first trial. There is a lot riding on his success, as the strength of a family’s magic is a key element of being a leader to the Jan’Tep, and Kellen’s father, being one of the most powerful mages, has a very valid chance of becoming the next ruler to his clan. He needs Kellan to prove himself, though, as magic is Alpha and the Omega to his people.
The pressure on Kellan to pass the trials is thus immense. As an added incentive, those failing to earn their mage name are resigned to the status of Sha’Tep. Shunned by the community, forever an outcast, they live the life of a slave to their “betters”, the Jan’Tep. You could be a Jan’Tep’s sister, brother, mother, husband, girlfriend, best friend – if you become Sha’Tep, you are as good as dead to them. Unfortunate then for our protagonist, that he has almost no magic.
As Kellen tries to walk the fine line of faking it and still somehow passing the trials, his efforts at strengthening his connection to the six foundations of magic bring him into contact with a couple of very interesting characters who were absolute highlights. First up, we have Ferius Parfax, a card wielding Argosi wanderer, with very strong opinions and interesting thoughts. Though many believe her to be a spy for the Daroman King, Kellan soon befriends her and is better off for it.
‘If you’re not a spy then what are you?’ I asked. ‘Because I don’t believe some Argosi wanderer would still be hanging around here after what happened last night.’
‘I’m a woman, kid. You probably haven’t met one before, coming as you do from this backward place, but it’s like a man only smarter and with bigger balls.’
The second is, of course, a Nekhek.
Nekhek. The word meant ‘herald of the darkness’. A creature so foul it was said to be the Mahdek’s favourite weapon against my people, its bite stealing our magic and poisoning our spirits.
Where can I get one? 🙂
Suffice it to say, that Nekhek are not what the Jan’Tep believe them to be. Evil demons? No. Violent, bloodthirsty, foul-mouthed creatures with a very interesting sense of humour and a penchant for stealing? Most definitely. While I had no issues with any of the other characters and found them well written – De Castell is no slouch in this department – these two creations of his have in a very short time become absolute scene stealers and threaten to even overshadow our MC if they carry on like this. I’m not complaining though, merely trying to convey how much enjoyment they bring to the story and I sincerely hope they continue to do so in subsequent books.
Spellslinger is an interesting exploration of the other side of the Chosen One coin, giving us a protagonist who is amongst the weakest of his people. In a society where your worth is measured in magical ability, who are you without magic? Can you forge your own path, rather than the one that’s set out for you? The story never shies away from asking Kellen hard, uncomfortable questions, and despite some darker moments it stays a fun, light read that finished sooner than I wanted it to. At this point I think it’s safe to say that I will read anything de Castell writes and am very much looking forward to reading this book’s sequel, Shadowblack, as soon as possible.
“All right, you hairless skinbag sons of bitches. Which one of you wants it first?”