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Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
Book Name: Spellslinger
Author: Sebastien de Castell
Publisher(s): Zaffre Publishing (US) Hot Key Books (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: May 4, 2017

“I’ve recently discovered that people rarely tell the whole truth.”

“Is that what you’re here to do then, Kellen?” Osia’phest asked hopefully. “Tell the whole truth?”

I smiled. “No, my Lords Magi, I’m not here for that.”

In Spellslinger, the first book in Sebastien de Castell’s new young adult fantasy series, Kellen, a young mage-in-training with almost no magical ability whatsoever, announces that he recently has come to a realization: magic is a con game.

Fortunately, this new series, coming on the heels of de Castell’s enjoyable Greatcoats series, is no con.

Kellen is the son of the most powerful Jan’Tep mage in the city, but as he approaches his 16th birthday, he still has proven unable to muster any of his people’s powerful magics. In a society that values magical power above all else, that means that Kellen is days away from being named Sha’Tep, and spending the rest of his life as a slave to those whose magical powers have activated. It also makes Kellen a target – for his classmates, his family’s chief rival, and even the dowager magus, the 300-year-old wife of the late crown prince, whose death leaves a vacancy that others are willing to kill for.

As Kellen races to avoid his fate, he meets Ferius Parfax, a red-haired, card-dealing wanderer who may or may not be a spy. Dismissive of almost every Jan’Tep custom, she proves a strange mentor for Kellen, encouraging him to make his own decisions rather than blindly follow the customs his people have followed for generations. It’s that advice that leads Kellen to discover a conspiracy that threatens the future of the Jan’Tep people.

Much like Falcio val Mond, the protagonist from the Greatcoats series, Kellen proves to be an enjoyable protagonist. He doesn’t have Falcio’s flair for the dramatic or his unending optimism, but his self-deprecating humor and witty view of the world make him a charming entryway into the world de Castell has created.

Ironically, in many ways de Castell’s young adult series takes a far less optimistic view than the Greatcoats series. In those books, Falcio and the Greatcoats found that governing and making the right decisions were far harder than the stories would have you believe, but at the end of the day, the people they fought for were generally good. They may not always make decisions that Falcio and his friends agreed with, but the common folk were generally good people.

The same can’t be said for the society Kellen inhabits. His classmates, even those who are his friends as the story begins, are almost all jerks. Family members who demonstrate no magical ability spend their adult lives as slaves, working in the household or the ore mines, with almost no acknowledgement that they once were members of the family. As Kellen learns more about his people, he finds even more darkness in their past, and finds himself questioning their closely held traditions and legends.

While the society de Castell has established is compelling, it isn’t terribly deep. At the end of the book, I still don’t know anything about the Jan’Tep’s religion(s?), or their economy (outside of Ferius, who probably gambles for a living, I literally do not know how a single character in the book makes any money). Kellen’s father makes mention of the threat that other nations pose to the Jan’Tep way of life, but we don’t really get to know anything about these other cultures, and we never get a clear picture of exactly how these cultures relate to one another.

It left me with the feeling that it’s a world that could be incredibly compelling, but – at least in the first book – de Castell doesn’t display much interest in fleshing everything out. Sure, Kellen is your typical self-absorbed teenager, and may not notice anything that doesn’t directly relate to his personal drama, but an author as clever as de Castell is certainly capable of incorporating hints and details without spoiling the perspective of his young protagonist.

Fortunately, Kellen’s voice and the story’s forward momentum are enough to keep many readers – including most younger readers – from noticing. Kellen’s interactions with his “business partner,” a squirrel cat that his people consider to be a demon, prove to be one of Spellslinger’s brightest strengths, rounding out a cast of characters who each have very different relationships with Kellen.

From the loving yet somewhat distant relationship Kellen has with his parents and sister and the even stranger relationship Kellen has with his Sha’Tep uncle, to the burgeoning romance with Nephrenia and the dissolving friendship with Panahsi, Kellen’s relationships with those around him each have shades of gray. In some instances, particularly in regards to Nephrenia and Panahsi, I wish we got to know the characters around Kellen better. Ultimately, though, de Castell has laid the groundwork for more development in the books to come.

The second book, Shadowblack, comes out October 5, 2017, and currently is available for pre-order. After seeing how the Greatcoat novels improved throughout their run, I’ll be looking forward to seeing how de Castell expands Kellen’s world now that he has found his path in life.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Charlie Hopkins says:

    Great review

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