This was part of #SPFBO book club on the SPFBO community discord server, it’s also a semifinalist in SPFBO 8 and at the moment of this review, still in the running to be a finalist. I read this via audiobook and the narrator although new to me, I liked. He had an animated bouncy voice which was a bit exaggerated but that works for me. Having a more animated voice and different voices for the characters grabs my attention which I really need right now, I’m very distractable at the moment.
So this starts out with Ren being a conscripted soldier, it was mentioned in the book how long each person has to serve in the Army but I honestly forget, but it’s a while. The particular group that Ren has been assigned to is known for being full of brutal murderers, I believe conscription to the Army can also be a punishment but I honestly can’t recall. His friend and mentor buys out his conscription when his service date is up, and essentially sets him free. He’s the youngest person to be freed from the Army in generations, possibly ever. But the freedom is short lived because something known as the Inquisitors come for them both and they want them dead for reasons Ren doesn’t understand yet.
Inquisitors are other worldly creatures used as hounds almost to hunt down people the government wants arrested/killed. They are sentient and talk, but they aren’t ‘people’, they’re unquestioningly obedient, or so it seems. There’s a limited number of them, and supposedly they are all under strict control so those in charge know exactly where tehy are and what they’re doing.
So, after being freed from one kind of imprisonment, he runs from the inquisitors to find himself in a different predicament — the prime suspect of multiple murders. He shows up bloody in front of a university where someone was just murdered which doesn’t make him look good. He’s under investigation and has to prove himself innocent throughout most of the book.
Magic is super prevalent in this world, most people can use at least one kind of magic known as a ‘knack’. Some women can use more than one kind of magic, but for whatever reason, men are limited to one. This often makes men very good at one specific craft while women can be more generalized. This is all well and good, except, Ren has no powers at all. He kept waiting for it to come on during puberty and it just never does. What’s going on with him and his magic is a big part of the story and the part I found most interesting.
The world building is just fantastic here, a lot of things are thoroughly explored and created a depth and realness. There’s a lot of different rules and whatnot to the magic system, which was largely elemental based. I seem to be hitting a lot of those recently but I don’t mind, I’m someone who likes both magic systems and elemental stuff. There’s more than just magic to the world building. I felt like enough of the governing system, religion, city architecture, technology were all explained enough so that the whole thing came together smoothly. I wasn’t left with a lot of questions that I feel were unintentionally left unanswered — there are still some things to come and be explained, but it feels purposeful not confusing. One of the best aspects of this is that there was very little info dumping considering he was at a university where sometimes that’s used as an excuse to just drop paragraphs of awkward information on the reader through classes and history lessons. There was a little bit of that, but it wasn’t jarring or boring.
The tone was something I appreciated, it’s a really difficult balance to keep something fun while also having a darker undertone. The murders that are happening around the city are done in the POV of the person murdered, so that set a more serious undertone to this bantery, snarky, witty MC. I think without the severity of the murders I would have been a little bored. I’d also like the praise the characterization of these brief interlude chapters where these women are being murdered, they felt like real people even though they were only on the page for a short period of time. It leant emotion to what otherwise could be a curiosity only, and not something I was emotionally invested in.
I was not a huge fan of the romance — but I think I say that more often than not when it comes to a romance. I didn’t hate it, I just never warmed up to the love interest and so it never fully clicked for me. Other than that I don’t have a whole lot of complaints about this one. The pacing was well done, the writing was fluid and fast with dialogue that was believable. I got a good sense for how things looked which isn’t totally common with me. I suppose, once again, fake cursing does not go over with me well, but your mileage will vary with that. I think I am slightly adjacent to the target audience, and had I been the target I think I would have loved it. The MC was a little young for my taste, but there was nothing wrong with him. The book is very good at what it is, a fun magical adventure coming of age story.
Overall, I’d recommend this to anyone who likes lots of magic, murder mysteries, likable witty MCs, and good audiobooks!
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 79/100 or 4 stars on Goodreads