Benjamin Ashwood by A.C Cobble

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I’m getting through my backlog! I read this as part of my SPFBO 100 book challenge. I think this would appeal to people who like characters going on an adventure, overall lighter tone, and coming of age stories. I listened to this on audiobook so my spelling may not be accurate.

Plot:

Ben’s village was attacked by an unusually strong demon, it tore through the villagers who tried to defend their lands, and slaughtered their livestock. After deciding that they couldn’t handle the demon they hired a third party to come in an take care of the problem before it got so bad that they would have to relocate. The people they hired turned out to be a mage and a blademaster, two elite warriors who happened to be passing through. One thing leads to another, and Ben is on his way to “The City”, a city that’s more of a legend since many people don’t believe it exists. It’s where all the mages of the world come together and train at The Sanctuary.

It takes a while to get to The City, and a lot happens on their two months journey – everything from galas, to demon fights, to kidnappings happen along the way. His brewer’s apprenticeship in a small village didn’t lead him to become very worldly and so he’s fully unprepared for what’s happening to him, but he learns to adapt.

Once in The City, he finds himself stumbling into a darker plot involving The Sanctuary and where their allegiances truly lie. There’s a lot of politics involved in this story, a beaten down lower class that doesn’t see the point in submitting to a Lord if the Lord isn’t willing to defend them and keep them safe. There’s a war brewing in the background, and who is on what side isn’t totally clear.

Final Score: 11/15

Characters:

Benjamin is a classic morally white character, he wants to do well by everyone and puts himself into dangerous situations to help others. He’s the sort of person who wouldn’t trade his life for another, and on the surface it doesn’t look like he’s cut out to be a warrior. His training goes well, however, and as he learns side by side with skilled swordsmen, he comes into his own.

Rhys is a mysterious character for the majority of the book, he answers peoples questions as vaguely as possible when it comes to his past. He leaves it as “he’s done bad things” and has a lot of regrets – so we come into this character after he’s already started his redemption arc. He’s trying to amend for his ways and he believed at one point that serving The Sanctuary would help him atone, but he’s not so sure anymore given the way The Sanctuary has been conducting themselves in recent past.

Amalie is being trained in the Sanctuary along with Ben’s sister, she and Ben have an on again off again flirtation/romance through a lot of the book. She’s capable, smart, and shows a lot of promise as a mage. She’s high born, however, so there’s hesitation on her part to return the feelings Ben has for her, she’s expected to marry a lord of some kind.

Final Score: 10/15

World Building:

Magic isn’t common in this world, the general populous is aware that there are “mages”. and most believe the mages are some unseen head of power – but they don’t encounter them often. In some of the more remote areas people doubt that mages exist, and their capital, The City, is thought to be a legend.

Magic is part mysterious… but also sort of a magic system as well. Magic works by channelling energy and directing it at something or someone. It’s said that anything you can imagine can be possible given enough Will Power and training. That’s all very mysterious sounding, however, in order to wield magic in the first place first you have to know “how the world works”. Part of the training an apprentice mage goes through is akin to modern science education. Understanding friction, particles, how the sun provides energy to plants as a source of food are all part of learning how the energy of the world works and can be harnessed.

The “Long-Lived” are a group of people who have figured out how to manipulate the energies around them and in their bodies to the point where they don’t age normally anymore, with some of them living for centuries.

Women are the only sanctioned mages, it kind of harkens back to Wheel of Time where women rule the magical world. Men are thought to be too emotional and violent to handle the responsibility of having so much destructive power, and men who use magic are hunted down. It’s not clear what happens to them afterwards, but it’s not anything positive. There is a rogue male mage known as The Purple, who has gone underground to continue his studies, the rule where no men are allowed to practice magic is a recent occurance.

There’s a lot of politics and philosophy in this book explored through debates and discussion, it’s a classic coming of age story where the main character is exploring the world and you learn along with them.

Final Score: 13/15

Writing/Tone:

I felt like the majority of the book was somewhat lighter in tone, the main character being so noble bright offset much of the violence that was taking place. So, despite there being a lot of death, demons, and violence the book wasn’t what I would call “bleak”.

This isn’t a prosey book, there’s not a lot of flowery writing and the prose gets out of the way of the story. There are moments of humor and also a few references sprinkled here and there, like “stick them with the pointy end”.

It’s a single POV book of a young man, so there is a lot of male gaze and typical thoughts and experiences a younger man goes through.

Final Score: 12/15

Pacing:

The pacing was kind of funny for me, the over-arcing plot wasn’t made clear for a while. The book starts out with a journey to destination type plot, but it takes 70% of the book to get to said destination. Along the way a lot happens, they encounter wiped out villages, get kidnapped by thieves, fight demons and a lot of other stuff – but the entire time I wasn’t sure where it was all going until the last third of the book. This is the first book in a series that already has 5 books out, so it’s definitely just warming things up.

Final Score: 10/15

Originality:

The use of real world science intermixed with magic in a more medievalish world was a neat idea. There were some tropes used, but there was enough of the authors own flavor to keep things interesting.

11/15

Personal Enjoyment:

This was a shorter book that has a pretty straightforward plot, so it works well as something to read in between larger, doorstopper books. I like grey characters where I wrestle with their decisions and can’t tell if I like them or not. However, reading about a character that’s easy to like and that’s a good person creates a nice balance to that. I’m not a fan of male or female gaze, a lot of time spent describing the beauty of this person or that person tends to bore me, so although I understand why it’s there given the character, it just isn’t my thing. The sciency aspects of how the magic system worked well for me, and I saw a lot of promise in this book. I picked up the second book and I liked that one a lot more, a review for that will be coming soon. Much of what bugged me in this book was toned down in the second – the pacing was better and there was less male gaze.

Final Score: 6.8/10

Audience:

  • Single POV
  • epic fantasy
  • neat magic system
  • going on a quest
  • noble bright MC
  • demons
  • coming of age

Final Score: 73.8/100

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