Series transitions can be rough. This year Sebastien de Castell stuck the landing as he wrapped up his astounding Greatcoats quartet and sealed it as one of my favorite series. Simultaneously he has launched the first book in his second series, Spellslinger. It is always interesting to see the direction that authors go post-series completion. Some authors love to stick with that they know and make spin offs (which there is nothing wrong with). Others like to try something new and start from a blank slate. Spellslinger falls into the second category and I was curious to see if de Castell could recreate the magic of Traitor’s Blade or if it would fall flat. I am impressed to say that Sebastian did neither of those things; instead creating something with a different voice than his other work but just as wonderful.
The concept behind Spellslinger is one of my favorite in recent memory: a boy who is failing at being a mage instead becomes a magician. Our lead, Kellen, is a young mage who is currently trying to pass his mage trials to become a Jan’Tep. He has until his sixteenth birthday to complete a series of texts to be recognized as one of his tribe’s magic wielding upper class. If he fails to pass these texts before his rapidly approaching bday he will instead be relegated to the almost slavelike underclass of his tribe who are forced into servitude of the Jan’Tep. Kellen’s magic is pretty terrible, but he has a sharp wit and keen mind and supplements his weak spells with the skills of a traditional real world stage magician (sleight of hand, illusions, misdirection etc.). Using all these skills and his keen mind he might just be able to escape being forced into a life of servitude.
Spellslinger is a young adult book, but I think that the only place it is noticeable is the subject matter it focuses on: a young boy trying to pass tests and find his place in the world. Sebastien treats his readers as adults and I think this book will be loved by people of every age. As I mentioned before, when I went into Spellslinger I expected a similar narrative structure to The Greatcoats: funny and charismatic characters that run around solving all the world’s problems with their upstanding morals – but with magic this time. Instead Kellen is a more subdued character than de Castell’s others, but that is likely because he grows and changes as a person as the book progresses in a wonderful way. The book is still funny, fun, and an adventure to read, but Spellslinger places more emphasis on worldbuilding and the protagonist’s personal story than The Greatcoats did.
Speaking of which, the worldbuilding is incredible. Spellslinger is not a very long book but Sebastien establishes a deep and enrapturing world in an impressively short amount of time. In addition, the cast of characters in the book is great. The cast feels fresh and new, both from his other series and the genre as a whole. There is a sub-theme running through the book surrounding turning fantasy tropes on their head, and I love it. One example is that instead of getting a magical animal familiar like his fellow mages, Kellen gets a business partner. It adds absurdity and humor that I love to the story, and makes it one of the most memorable I have read in years. There are so many books out there about the ‘Chosen One’ rising up to save the world, that Kellen (who reads like budget Harry Potter, and I mean that with the highest level of praise, I promise) really stands out and instantly found a place in my heart. On top of all of this, the plot of the book is fantastic and had me on the edge of my seat from page one, and I read it in a single sitting. Much like the late and wonderful Terry Pratchett, de Castell is a masterful author who weaves deep and poetic ideas and points into his humor and this trend continues in this novel. His comments on family and friends hit hard for me and the book managed to make me both laugh out loud and cry within a few pages.
de Castell is one of the best authors of our generation and it is wonderful to see that his enormous talent is not restrained to a single series. Spellslinger is a tremendous success in its own right that I encourage you to pick up as soon as possible, but it also shows that de Castell will be an author I follow for the rest of his career. I ecstatically recommend Spellslinger to everyone and I eagerly await the sequel, Shadowblack, later this year,
Rating: Spellslinger – 9.5/10