by Alexandra Rushe
Series: Fledgling Magic #1
Publisher: Rebel Base Books
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Reading Challenges: 2018 Romance Roundabout Challenge
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Welcome to Tandara, where gods are fickle, nightmares are real, and trolls make excellent bakers . . .
Raine Stewart is convinced she’ll die young and alone in Alabama, the victim of a chronic, mysterious illness. Until a man in a shabby cloak steps out of her mirror and demands her help to defeat a bloodthirsty wizard.
Raine shrugs it off as a hallucination—just one more insult from her failing body—and orders her intruder to take a hike. But the handsome figment of her imagination won’t take no for an answer, and kidnaps her anyway, launching her into a world of utmost danger—and urgent purpose.
Ruled by unpredictable gods and unstable nations, Tandara is a land of shapeshifters and weather-workers, queens and legends. Ravenous monsters and greedy bounty hunters patrol unforgiving mountains. Riverboats pulled by sea-cattle trade down broad waterways. And creatures of nightmare stalk Raine herself, vicious in the pursuit of her blood.
But Raine isn’t helpless or alone. She’s part of a band as resourceful as it is odd: a mage-shy warrior, a tattered wizard, a tenderhearted giant, and a prickly troll sorceress. Her new friends swear she has powers of her own. If she can stay under their protection, she might just live long enough to find out . . .
I have a deep fondness for portal fantasies, since I read a ton of them as a teen in the 90s, so this had a lot of nostalgia for me. I’m not sure the cover is a good match for the book, though. The cover made me think this would be a romantic fantasy novel, like Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles. Instead, it’s a quirky sort of epic fantasy, with pretty much nonexistent romance, and reminds me most of my memories of reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth books as a teen. It has its own sort of fun, but if you’re going into it expecting a romantic undertone, like I was, you’re going to be disappointed.
The book is mostly told from Raine’s perspective, in the third person, though occasionally it switches to another character. I disliked these parts, because I felt like it was taking me away from Raine’s story, and just piled on confusion. The first few chapters of the book were rough reading, as there are a lot of characters, place names, and Gods, some with multiple nicknames. The pacing also had a couple of really slow spots, and I felt like the switching POVs hurt that as well. At one point, we spend a couple chapters with Queen Balzora of Tannenbol for no particular reason I could discern, as there wasn’t anything that happened that the characters didn’t go back to Raine and explain later.
I just never really connected with Raine. She goes from super sick (to the point of dying) to absolutely stunning gorgeous and powerful in the course of a few weeks. Of course, there is an explanation for why she’s been so sickly all her life (and it was obvious from the beginning), but it still seemed like she recovered much too quickly. I did like that, even though she was ridiculously powerful, she had no control over it, and caused a lot of accidental destruction. She had a couple of annoying TSTL moments (“oh, I’m hearing a weird voice in my head, maybe I should tell one of the super powerful and knowledgeable wizards over there? Ooooor, I know, I could just wander off into the creepy forest!”) that didn’t endear her to me either. I honestly felt closer to some of the other characters than I did to her. I especially liked Gertie, the troll.
“If they kill me, throw yourself out of the tree and hope you break your neck. You don’t want to be alive when they start to eat you.”
And that leads in to my favorite part of this book – the world building. To start off, there’s a gorgeous map at the front of the book, and that should clue you in that this’ll be one of those lovely long journey books a la Fellowship of the Ring. Each of the various countries is under the auspices of a certain god, and as the book progresses, we learn more about the inhabitants of each land and some of their stories. Some of my favorite parts of the book were Gertie’s stories about the founders of two of those countries. Also, I absolutely adored Gertie and the whole troll culture. The fantastical creatures – from trolls to frost giants to the various types of “goggins” – were all fascinating and very well done. In terms of building characters, the book was wonderful – it was just getting the characters to feel like real people that I cared about that I felt the book struggled with.
There’s definitely more of a young adult feel to this than epic fantasy. For one thing, there’s a lot of silliness. Some of it is truly funny, and some of it struck me as just over the top. A “wizard who set his farts on fire” joke? A wizard who turns himself into a bird and then poops on an annoying character’s head? There’s even a joke about – I cannot believe I’m typing this out – a “jigglestick.” The characters also have the habit of talking in Ye Olde English, aka Fantasy English, which is a pet peeve of mine.
Overall, I think this book was just not my cup of tea. If you’re on the lookout for a quirky fantasy with fantastic world building, however, this may be the book for you!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: