Book Review: Spellslinger – by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger Book #1

Fantasy, YA Fantasy

Hot Key Books; May 4, 2017 (UK), Orbit Books; July 17, 2018 (US)

432 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

A fresh YA fantasy follows a boy struggling through his mage exams. Kellen’s an outcast, unlucky, scion of a powerful family… oh, and he has no magic. The world-building for the first Spellslinger book is impressive for a YA. de Castell doesn’t skimp—fresh off the Greatcoats Quartet, he weaves a tale of intrigue and mystery, with a boy that may lack magic, but has learned to make up for it by using his natural skills and wile. Nothing new about the support-system, Kellen has collected a team of outcasts and friends to help him defeat someone much more powerful than he. But a lovely story with entertaining characters in a new and interesting world should be more than enough of a reason to read.

Kellen has only a few weeks til his 16th birthday, the age when he becomes a man in Jan’Tep society and expected to pass his mage trials. Slight issue: he hasn’t sparked any of his bands that allow him to control the six elements of magic. And without them, not only will he be unable to pass his mage exams, Kellen will always be relegated from the Jan’Tep ranks, instead becoming Mar’Tep—those without magic that act as servants to the ruling class. And seeing as how Kellen is the scion to one of his clan’s most powerful families, his own sister a prodigy of no equal… So, no pressure. And somehow, things are about to get worse.

Spellslinger is a strong fantasy novel, and more so, a good beginning to an excellent series. I actually enjoyed the second (Shadowblack) more than the first; in which I felt that de Castell capitalized on his successes from the first while fixing the ways he erred. But that’s for later.

The characters, while not deep, were very human. Instead of the depressing, dark stuff that I normally read, Spellslinger was uplifting, funny and hopeful, despite the fact that Kellen’s story is really anything but. It helps to have secondary characters like Ferius Parfax or Reichis to keep both the comedy and action rolling.

I had a problem with, well, one of those clichés that allowed Kellen and his friends to escape situations they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Y’know, it’s like when the villain takes time to explain his/her plan giving the hero the chance to escape and stop her/him. I feel like de Castell—for all the other good he did—really could’ve come up with something better.

While this book doesn’t do anything “new”, exactly—a mage without magic, a ragtag group of heroes going up against overwhelming odds, etc—I found that the combination of it all went together rather smoothly, to the point that nothing was over the top or too cliché. The added elements of kinship versus betrayal, hope versus defeat, and a burgeoning yet complicated love story, really helped bring this coming of age tale to life. As I’ve noted already, the second was amazing, so there’s no reason not to pick up Spellslinger today.

Audiobook Note: Joe Jameson was amazing! I only read the first book on audio, but’ve made it through the 2nd and 3rd with his voice narrating whenever Kellen speaks. It’s always important to have a good reader, and Jameson was certainly one!

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