The pressure is on for Kellen. With his sixteenth birthday approaching, the Jan’Tep initiate must pass the four trials to become a mage, just like his powerful father, mother and sister. The trouble is that Kellen has no magic ability whatsoever. But when the enigmatic, sharp-talking wanderer Ferius Parfax arrives, she sets loose a chain of events that turns Kellen’s view of himself and his whole world upside down.
Essentially, Spellslinger is set in a magic world moulded from the Old West. While there are smatterings of Western fiction tropes – the stranger who wanders into town, the dangerous indigenous people – what author Sebastien De Castell does so brilliantly is to explore a darker, post-colonial take on the subject matter. Spellslinger isn’t simply magic cowboys versus evil wizard Indians but a story with many a moral quandary and grey area. In this book, everyone believes they are the hero of the story and protagonist Kellen only has difficult choices laid out ahead of him. Even the central antagonist, while thoroughly unpleasant, believes he is acting for the good of his people.
This murky world view allows for some great, fleshed-out characters. Kellen is a strong lead, someone who is consciously far from the typical knight-in-shining-armour hero from the folk tales he was told as a child and who is merely trying to do the best he can in a tough world. The scene-stealers, though, are his friends Ferius and Reichis the Squirrel-Cat. While Ferius is a welcome female twist on the Man With No Name type character, it is probably Reichis who will win your heart more. The blurb references Guardians of the Galaxy and there is definitely more than a smidge of Rocket Racoon about this foul-mouthed, quip-happy large rodent.
In terms of criticism, there are some aspects of the Jan’Tep society and this world left unexplored as well as certain supporting characters given a short shrift. However, this is to be expected when you consider that Spellslinger is intended to be the first in a sizeable sextet of novels. On the basis of this first instalment, which introduces a fascinating society, some strong themes and a bunch of characters we want to spend more time with, we can confidently say that De Castell’s new series has hit the ground running. Or perhaps we should say that it’s quick on the draw?
SPELLSLINGER / AUTHOR: SEBASTIEN DE CASTELL / PUBLISHER: HOT KEY BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 4TH MAY