The past weekend, I went to a beautiful spa in the woods for a much-needed day of rest and relaxation. The spa had all sorts of wonderful saunas and a pool, but it also had a reading room with little couches to relax on. Given my love of reading, a desire to relax, and a bunch of free time, I figured I would make a large amount of headway in the books I had with me. I then picked up Rise of the Mages, by Scott Drakeford, and promptly fell asleep.
Honestly, to say Rise of the Mages is boring would be a falsehood. It’s actually too exciting to the point where it becomes a mess. The plot is a chaotic clusterf***. The real meat of the story is about a man Emrael, whose life at the capital city magic school is interrupted when a rogue element of the government attempts a hostile take over of the school to recruit its students for a genocidal war motivated by racism. As you can tell, super casual and low-key book. Emrael and his band of friends, teachers, and countrymen must run around the areas surrounding the city and come up with a plan to rescue Emrael’s captured artificer brother from the capital, before escaping to a foreign nation in a state of war that is run by Emrael’s mother, while Emrael is also in the process of discovering that he has magic— something that he thought did not exist only two days ago. There is also a ton of information I am leaving out of this description, in particular a number of events that take place around the death of Emrael’s father at the start of the book, but they mostly end up feeling like they don’t matter by the end (for at least book one).
Rise of the Mages has a bunch of positives going for it, but its negative (that it is extremely busy) overshadows most of them. There is so much extraneous information packed into this book, particularly in the first quarter, that there is almost no flow and the story can be very difficult to follow. Most of this information is clearly foreshadowing future conflicts in the story, but the book as a whole is suffering from a big old case of the cart before the horse in a number of dimensions. Rise of the Mages does a poor job establishing itself at the start and just dumps you like a sack of ham into a story that feels like it is relying on knowledge of existing fantasy tropes to carry its setup. Because of this, both the world and the characters can often feel underdeveloped and unearned. There is also little emotional investment in the stakes where we have barely gotten to know these characters before things start to explode.
On the other hand, the book is definitely exciting, with some interesting action sequences. Although the world and its conflicts feel watered down for a book about cultural wars, the Citidel war school and its artificer corps was super cool and I definitely wanted to know more. Also, there is a lot of foreshadowing of a fallen god that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the book, but it is super rad and I definitely found myself wanting to know more about their conflict. Thus, I suspect that Rise of the Mages will be the weakest book in this series and that the later ones might jive with me a lot more. However, this, once again, feels like a cart before the horse so I am not sure how much I want to reward the book for that sort of behavior.
Rise of the Mages is gritty, action-packed, and brimming with potential. But, it is also a chaotic mess that needs to put in more legwork to earn some of its setup and execution and would be better served by a slower and more fleshed-out opening. If you like fast-paced and action-oriented stories, this might be for you if you can roll with the punches. I personally felt like it was a little too much work on my end for a relaxing spa day.
Rating: Rise of the Mages – 5.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.