Spellslinger: Lots of spells, lots of slinging

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Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell YA fantasy book reviewsSpellslinger by Sebastien de Castell YA fantasy book reviewsSpellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger sounded right up my street — a young adult novel full of magic, cons, card tricks and a plucky underdog. If it didn’t live up to my high hopes I blame the misleading words emblazoned on the back cover that read “Magic Is A Con” — an enticing promise that isn’t delivered because, well, magic turns out not to be a con. Nevertheless, while it wasn’t the story I expected, Spellslinger is an enjoyable romp in its own way.

Kellen and his class-mates are all set to complete the trials that will secure their future as “Jan’tep” — a magical people who wield five pillars of magic — breath, iron, silk, blood, ember and sand. If they fail the trials they will be forced to live out their lives as “Sha’tep”, an under-class destined to serve through manual labour. The only problem is, Kellen has lost his magic. However hard he tries he cannot summon the spells he needs to complete the trials. To make matters worse Kellen is the son of one of the Jan’tep’s greatest mages, his little sister is one of the most powerful students at the school, and he’s just made an enemy of the Jan’tep’s nastiest family.

Things are looking pretty bleak for Kellen when a red-headed, wise-cracking stranger named Ferrius arrives in the town. Ferrius doesn’t have any Jan’tep magic but she introduces Kellen to her card tricks which mainly involve flicking (or slinging) sharp metal cards at her enemies. The blossoming friendship between the pair only compounds Kellen’s problems as the Jan’tep people become convinced that Ferrius is a dangerous spy.

From here things really kick off and Kellen lands himself in scrape after scrape, each one worse than the last. Plots and schemes abound and Kellen finds himself caught up in them all, even more so when he hooks up with a particularly aggressive and sarcastic squirrel-cat, the traditional enemy of the Jan’tep people. There’s a deeper level to the story too as Kellen battles with who he is and begins to question the morality of his own people. Throughout it all Kellen wills his magic to return and struggles with the taunts of his class-mates.

Spellslinger 2: Shadowblack: Book Two in the page-turning SPELLSLINGER fantasy series


The reason that cover bugged me so much was that throughout the story Jan’tep magic, far from being a con, seems pretty powerful, despite any limitations it might have. What’s more, Kellen does have to rely on it to escape his many plights. I get the impression it might be a better tag for future books in the series, but let’s wait and see on that score.

Putting that quibble aside, Sebastien de Castell has introduced some winning elements in Spellslinger. Kellen is a relatable hero, full of confidence and yet plagued by a feeling of inferiority. Ferrius is a highlight; a wily wanderer with a mysterious past and heart of gold. The squirrel-cat adds humour (he reminds me of Mogget in Garth Nix’s Sabriel), and in general the dialogue is witty and off-beat, giving Spellslinger a cheeky edge.

The pace is fast and never lets up, although it does fall prey to the classic cycle of “hero falls into trap, is saved in the nick of time, falls into another trap.” Spellslinger is very much an adventure book which means setting and world-building are dealt a very light touch and anyone who likes a detailed explanation to their magical systems may be disappointed. On the plus side there’s no room for boredom as the plot canters along and Kellen is delightfully good at causing trouble.

I have to wonder why so many young adult books suffer from convoluted plots. It’s a problem I come across frequently, as if young-adult audiences are less discerning and don’t mind plot-holes — something I most definitely don’t believe. Spellslinger isn’t the first to suffer from a touch of over-cramming syndrome.

Spellslinger is the first in a series that is set to continue for six books so I hope to see more of my favourite characters as it progresses. Maybe I’ll finally learn why magic is a con!

Published May 4, 2017. MAGIC IS A CON GAME. Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path. Ferius Parfax is one of the mysterious Argosi – a traveller who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She’s difficult and unpredictable, but she may be Kellen’s only hope… The first in a rich and compelling fantasy series bursting with tricks, traps and a devious talking squirrel cat. Perfect for fans of THE DARK TOWER, FIREFLY, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, TERRY PRATCHETT, BEN AARONOVITCH and JIM BUTCHER.

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KATIE BURTON, who joined us in September 2015, is a solicitor in London and now an aspiring journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

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  1. Ferrius sounds like a take on Gambit from the X-Men, and that’s all to the good. I think I’d enjoy these. I like any books with talking squirrel-cats, after all.

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