Book One of Spellslinger
by Sebastien de Castell
Fantasy | 416 Pages | Published by Hot Key Books in 2017
With powerful mages, card-throwing wanderers and an unseen enemy, Sebastien de Castell’s first foray into young adult fantasy is an undeniable success. In a world defined by magic and a person’s ability to wield it, Spellslinger takes the reader on an exciting journey which blurs the lines between those who would be friends, those who are family and those who may become enemies.
Witty and absorbing, this novel tells the tale of a boy whose steady loss of power culminates in a dangerous confrontation with his own people and, through a series of unpredictable twists and turns, exhibits an extraordinary flare for adventure from beginning to end.
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…
At the age of sixteen, all young Jan’Tep must face their greatest trial: the mage’s trial. The outcome of which will determine those that will assume ultimate power, wielding great magic and respected from afar, and those that will become Sha’Tep, the serving underclass of Jan’Tep society.
Kellen’s magic has dwindled over the years to next to nothing. He hasn’t broken any of his mage’s bands, he can barely perform a simple spell, and to make matters worse his little sister is likely to become one of the most powerful mages of all time.
Bullied by those who think him beneath them, abandoned by those he would have considered friends, Kellen is left with only his meagre powers, a dash of cunning, and sheer dumb luck to get him through his trials.
But when a strange frontierswoman turns up to help Kellen out of his trouble, he finds his path taking an altogether unexpected turn… for better or worse, only time will tell.
De Castell has created a vivid and ruthless society whose own sense of superiority has rendered them an isolated state. The world of the Jan’Tep is a world where a person’s magical ability defines their very place in the social order. A people who consider their own culture and society as the pinnacle of refinement and power, the Jan’Tep see those beyond their borders as outsiders, whose weakness is made apparent by their lack of power.
Those within Jan’Tep society who fail to display any magical prowess are doomed to become Sha’Tep. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; all are parted when the magic in one fails to appear in the other. Those who are lucky may take a serving position in what was once their home. Those who are not are forced to work in the mines.
As skilfully as Jan’Tep society is wrought; where the arrogance that permeates their culture, even amongst Kellen’s own family and friends, threatens to make them all appear as an unreasonable and tyrannical culture, the characterisation of the principle cast is where the novel and the overarching plot truly excels. De Castell has created a cast of true and varied characters whose humour and apparent deficiencies carry the story to its dramatic conclusion.
As both protagonist and narrator, Kellen is a witty and self-deprecating companion throughout the novel. What he lacks in magical proficiency he more than makes up for in cunning, wit and in his ability for getting the backs up of almost every person he comes across. And though he drives the other Jan’Tep mages to distraction, and perhaps even his friends half the time, he is an instantly likeable character which makes the injustice of his situation all the more potent.
His companions, Ferius Parfax, an Argosi wanderer whose proficiency in both playing cards and using them as a deadly weapon is more than a little disconcerting, and Reichis, a squirrel cat who has a penchant for thievery, violence and eating his enemies eyeballs, are arguably my two favourite characters, creating a strange and humorous sense of camaraderie which only becomes more interesting as the novel develops.
Spellslinger succeeds in combining this interesting cast of characters with an exciting and unpredictable plot-line, whose twists and turns never fail to turn up a surprise or two. Skilfully plotted and wonderfully executed, de Castell writes in a personable, almost conversational tone which creates a distinct connection with Kellen and emphasises the injustices which permeate Jan’Tep society.
The first in the Spellslinger series is a thoroughly enjoyable read which leaves me eager to join Kellen in future adventures. Brimming with magic, humour and more than a little danger, de Castell has created another novel which never fails to leave a lasting impression.