Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Review: Knightmare Arcanist

Knightmare Arcanist Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA fantasy with a fresh premise - at least, fresh to me: people bond to any of a wide variety of mystical creatures and become arcanists, their powers differing based on the creature they are bonded to. Also, there's a magical plague which drives the creatures mad and corrupts the humans who are bonded to them, and pirates are deliberately spreading it as a terror tactic (and because it can make their creatures' magic more powerful).

It's a premise that's well thought through and well sustained. There's a contained cast - six young people, newly bonded, coming to an arcanists' guild as apprentices, all of whom were easy to tell apart, and most of whom played clear and necessary roles; and no more than four more senior guildspeople, of whom two featured heavily.

There's also a positive adoptive father-figure, who isn't on stage much but is very much present in recollection for the main character. That character is motivated to prove to everyone that he isn't a criminal like his parents, but a noble and good person like his adoptive father, and it's a strong motivation, well handled. He wants to do right, but because of everyone's expectations about him and the way the situation is set up, often ends up breaking the rules in order to do what he thinks ought to be done.

The kids' conflicts are believable and not just cliches, and their characters at least begin to flesh out during the story, in ways that make sense. While there are hints of early attraction that will no doubt cause trouble between them in the future, nothing becomes overt in this book as far as romance between the cast is concerned.

There is the usual hard-to-swallow YA trope of inexperienced apprentices being able to do anything whatsoever against a more powerful and mature foe (and I did spot the roles of "unexpected" villain and unlikely ally coming several miles off), but I think the author pulls it off in the end.

The worldbuilding is fairly light, and mostly centred on the magical creatures (who have their own personalities, particularly the ferretlike rizzel, who's consistently amusing). There are two or three familiar names from the real world, mixed with a lot of made-up names, which was a touch odd; I thought "at least the author doesn't make the common mistake of using biblical names in a setting where Christianity doesn't exist," but then late in the piece there was a cathedral, so perhaps Christianity, or something like it, does exist.

I had a pre-release copy from Netgalley, and the very common issue of missing past perfect tense when referring to earlier events in past tense narration was frequent; it may be reduced (but, given how frequent it is, probably won't be eliminated) by thorough copy editing before publication.

Overall, with those few caveats, this is a sound and entertaining piece of storytelling, and I would happily read more in the series.

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