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354 pages, Paperback
Published December 12, 2020
For the main plot, Zyn and their sister, Ren, are trying to attend a magic academy. However, Zyn cannot connect with their magic source and they don’t know why. Not to mention that one of the students, Sarala, was found in the woods. The teachers are trying to figure out where she came from along with magic mirror shards that keep popping up everywhere.
Over the course of the book, the students attend their classes and the readers get to learn more about spirits and magic, Zyn and Ren bond with Sarala, Ren collapses to visions, Zyn tries to tap into their magic, we learn a few traditions, and the school year ends on a pretty exciting note. (Which I’ll get more into that in the spoiler section.) As far as a magical academy goes it’s a pretty standard plot.
However, I also like the elements that were thrown in that I haven’t really read about before such as the students learning martial arts and fine arts so they didn’t have to rely on their magic for everything and had regular, relatable hobbies. There is also a good mystery element to what the shards will complete, along with who is leaving them inside the school and why.
For the writing itself it wasn’t bad for a debut novel. All the main characters have a pretty strong voice along with wants and needs that are clear. However this book does fall into the trap I often see when it comes to new novels and that there isn’t enough sensory description to really get me immersed in the world. The only senses described are sight and hearing there’s no touch, no smell, and no taste.
Although this lends the book to a faster pace, it also sacrifices the reader being invested in the world. This comes with its own set of problems as it makes it a little difficult to get into the first half of the book. In the sense that there is a slight bit of detachment in everything the characters do.
For instance, when Sarala was testing for her blue sash during one of the martial arts classes, it was supposed to show her struggle and make the reader feel a sense of accomplishment and pride along with the character.
However the characters themselves are pretty well written despite a few nitpicks. I’ll dive deeper into that during the character sections but I’ll say right now that the relationships are wonderful!
Also, the foreshadowing in this book was great. The pieces planted throughout the story made me want more and the payoff at the end was well worth it.
Honestly this book was really refreshing to read about in terms of worldbuilding. I normally don’t like school settings because I’m not one for more reminders of all the classes and homework I have to do in the real world but this school was rather entertaining! I would love to go there if this was a real place.
However though the world building was presented in class, which was a good way to do it, the information itself was a little dry. Even the students themselves said the classes were boring which didn’t spark my interest in it at all. When the characters have to admit that part of the world building is not too enjoyable that isn’t the best sign. I would’ve preferred to see the characters do more actions involving the spirits in the class rather than be presented with infodumping.
Speaking of classes, I did like how clearly the classes and rules were structured in terms of what year someone was. It makes sense how people in their first year wouldn’t be allowed to use magic outside of class due to inexperience.
Once the reader looks past the way the information is presented, the world itself is definitely well thought out. The bits with the spirits definitely have creative potential and I would love to see more in future books. How the flying ship was explained was also quite fun as for one, it wasn’t an info dump and two, flying ships are awesome in that regard.
Zyn’s relationship with Ren is very wholesome and they both feel like actual siblings. I love Zyn’s characteristic of dressy in flashy, mismatching colors along with how cheerful they are. Zyn’s struggle with finding their magic source and their frustration and worry over it was also a good, relatable part of their character. Especially for younger people who a feel like they are behind when it comes to life in general.
Compared to Zyn, Ren doesn’t have as much personality but she does have a lot of good character moments. For instance, pretending Zyn has air magic by using her own and encouraging her sibling to keep up the lie.
Ren also has an interesting relationship with Frost as Ren isn’t sure when to break off the relationship even though the couple doesn’t have much in common and isn’t working out. The fact that Ren was willing to break the rules in the first place to help her sibling, consequences be damned, shows that she has a ton of character agency and is willing to bend the rules for what she deems is a good reason. So yeah, Ren has a lot of potential in the character sequel.
For the most part, Sarala is a good character. She has a strong, abrasive personality but clearly wants some friends despite her prickly exterior. This is a character trope I tend to like so Sarala was among one of my favorite characters.
I do have some issues with the overall consistency in her arc but I feel like that is a bit too spoiler-y so I’ll put that in the spoilers section instead of addressing it here.
Anyway, another aspect of Sarala’s character I found enjoyable was her mysterious past and the fact that she arrived at the school through the woods. It ended itself to more world building along with the reader wanting to know more. A good choice!
As far as side characters go, Ak-tu was good. He was supportive, kind, and willing to listen. He also had some funny moments in the book, like instead of going down the stairs of a tower to leave, he just promptly exits through the nearest window.
As a headmaster however, Ak-tu has a few flaws which actually make him more of a well-rounded character. As pointed out by some of the characters, he tends to have a soft spot for his children and seems to tolerate behavior, like lying about magic, that might not be acceptable from other characters.
Though more of a minor character, C3 was a decent enough antagonist in the second half. He was definitely a jerk and I was not fond of him throughout the story, which was good considering he was written that way. One bit about C3 that I did like however was that he was fascinated by the concept of spirits in the book. Also, despite his flaws C3 is still a teenager so hopefully he will change for the better in future books.
MAJOR SPOILER SECTION
Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars. The world building and characters were great but the plot moved a little slow in the first half thanks to the lack of description. Regardless, this was still a fun read. I recommend this and can’t wait to read the sequel book when it comes out!
I hope Ryder will keep improving their craft and wish them the best of luck on their writing journey!