The book starts in the most awesome way imaginable. Wardin Rath is a prince, whose uncle and father have just lost a war. Wardin is the last of his line, and will be the object of the victorious king’s searches until he’s found. And then killed. But Wardin is somewhere very special, the last Magistery in the kingdom, the sole remaining repository for magic in the land. If Wardin is tracked down there, not only his own life will be lost, but the Magistery too, and with it all magical knowledge. So, at the age of just twelve, Wardin does something amazingly heroic: he leaves the Magistery, and allows himself to be caught by his enemy.
Needless to say (because the book would be very short otherwise) he isn’t killed. Instead his memories are magically erased, and he’s held at King Bramwell’s court as a royal tutor. Now, this requires some suspension of disbelief, because Bramwell is a hardnosed warrior and battle campaigner, and his motives for this action are dubious to say the least, but let that pass. Inevitably, the spell is eventually fractured, and so begins the main part of the story, with Wardin, now all grown up, trying to work out just who and what he is as bits of memory drift back to his mind, and eventually returning to the Magistery and his old friends.
I liked Wardin very much, and he’s believable both as the memory-wiped tutor and as the prince who is obviously destined to be a great leader of men (by book 3 of the trilogy, I predict). I liked the two sidekicks, too – Erietta and Arun, twins, and between the three of them they cover all three kinds of magic in this world. Battlemagic is physical, moving things about. Sage magic affects minds. Contrivance is about the imagination. And – here’s the really nice touch – each form has to be ‘balanced’ by its opposite. So battlemages have to do mental work after the expenditure of magic to balance themselves, sages do physical work and contrivers have to do mundane work, like scrubbing floors. This is very elegant.
The world-building isn’t excessive. The map at the front of the book is fairly minimalist, but I suspect that more places may be added as the trilogy progresses. For anyone (like me) who got a bit muddled about the family relationships, there’s a family tree along with a hires map at the Cairdarin website (Cairdarin is the world/continent name). But even if the world itself isn’t quite as detailed as an Ordnance Survey map, everywhere felt totally real and I could picture the settings perfectly in my mind, specially the awesome Magistery, nestled in the mountains, with its secret entrance.
The story rattles along, and there’s absolutely no filler. When Wardin sets off on a journey, there’s no meandering through the scenery, describing every tree and rock in loving detail. No, we jump straight to the next point of action, or sometimes the destination, with barely a moment to catch our breath. Sometimes these transitions felt a bit abrupt, but mostly I was glad to be spared the saggy bits.
As you’d expect, there’s a grand confrontation at the end, resolved very elegantly, which neatly sets the scene for the next book in the trilogy. I can’t wait. Highly recommended for fans of traditional epic fantasy. Five stars.