SPELLSLINGER by Sebastien De Castell (BOOK REVIEW)
Spellslinger is a YA fantasy with a (gasp) male protagonist! Kellen, our main character, is a fairly ordinary teenage boy, whose magic is subpar, and not a feisty redheaded princess or witch! I have to say, what made me pick up this book was its stellar cover design ( well done to the artists, Dale Halvorsen and Sam Hadley!) and the tag line “Magic is a con game”, because I definitely prefer my books to have female protagonists. But, I am so so glad I did try it, because this is one of the cleverest, funniest YA fantasies I’ve ever read.
I instantly warmed to Kellen, who we first encounter prepping for a magical duel with one of his bullies – who doesn’t love an underdog? Kellen’s magic is not good, and in a society that only values those of high magical talent, this is something of a large problem. Then his world view starts to get shaken up by the arrival of the mysterious Ferius Parfax, and it’s absolutely brilliant to watch Kellen learn to make the most of his own abilities, whether magic is one of them or not. I was really surprised that I loved him so much, when I thought he was going to be pretty annoying – he really is pretty annoying to the people around him, like any 16 year old boy, but he’s also very fun to read about and very believable.
I’ve never read a book with such a unique world in before! The Jan’Tep, Kellen’s people, are sort of Ancient Egyptians crossed with every snooty mage society you can think of. Then you have Ferius, who brings a Wild West sort of feeling to the story; she’s a travelling trickster, a playing-card-wielding gunslinger, and a really, really excellent role model for Kellen. I loved this twist on the student-mentor relationship. Ferius is another great character who is somehow extremely infuriating but also very engaging – one of the highlights of the writing in this is how well de Castell captures that ‘I love you, but right now I could quite happily kick you’ feeling of family. It’s funny and realistic and I loved it. There’s also a ring of truth in the horribleness of Kellen’s biological family – what dicks they all are! He’s better off with Ferius and Reichis, for sure. Another tick in the box for me: I love a found family.
Ah yes, Reichis. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a paragraph to one of the greatest characters in all of fantasy fiction: Reichis the squirrel cat! Now, if you know me, you’ll know I usually very much dislike comic talking animal sidekicks. But Reichis is more than a sidekick; he’s Kellen’s business partner, and he provides approximately 60% of the snark in this book (which is saying something because these characters snark like it’s a basic bodily function). He’s a vicious, terrifying beast who loves eating eyeballs and fighting, but is also a big fan of stealing shiny things and having bubble baths, not to mention sassing everyone he comes across. I love him. I want him to be my friend. I definitely don’t want him to be my enemy.
If you’re tired of grimdark and want your epic fantasy tropes shaken up a little, then you should rush to the bookshop and get a copy of Spellslinger right now. It’s part Western, part classic fantasy; it’s funny, but also very touching; and if you don’t Reichis will probably bite your ears off.