Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Shadowguard (Pharim War I) - Gama Ray Martinez
Sponsored by a rich patron, Jez attends the Carceri Academy, where many of the country's elite go to study. Though his patron forbids him to study it, Jez finds he has an aptitude for battle magic. When a sleeping sickness sweeps the land, Jez begins experiencing strange visions of the creation of the world. He investigates them and discovers a trail of dark magic that indicates his patron may not be as benevolent as he originally believed, and Jez himself may be much older than anyone suspects.
I first heard of Gama Ray Martinez's Pharim War series about a year ago. It was recommended in one of the Writing Excuses episodes in season 10 or 11 which I have been and still am catching up on.
I would pitch it as Harry Potter meets angels. The story is set in a fictional world where Jez, our protagonist, is struggling to adjust to his new role as a nobleman's ward after having grown up with his fisherman father. He is travelling to Carceri Academy, a school located on a volcano which teaches everything from philosophy and art, to magic. The moment he arrives, Jez learns that he has an affinity for binding magic that astounds even the masters. While Jez tries to find his place in the school and the world at large, he is troubled by visions of angels and dark magic. On top of that, a mysterious sleeping sickness sweeps the land and even the school's healing masters are unable to find a cure.
I loved the premise of the book and the magic system. The latter in particular was really well thought out with different categories of magic, which allowed people to be stronger in one field than in another, or even disregard a field entirely. In fact, Jez himself is forbidden by his patron to study in the fields of binding or battle magic as neither are appropriate for people of higher standing in society.
The world the story is set in is clearly more vast than we get to see in this first instalment of the series. It has a rich mythology and Martinez gives us a flavouring of places and society without going into too much detail. Personally, I would have preferred it if he had expanded on that. I like to feel and breathe a place when I read about it. I like to learn about a society by living among its people. Martinez has clearly thought about these things, but does not pursue them in as much depth as I would have liked. But then, I am a world building geek and will never drink too much of the wine that is new worlds.
Jez is a very compelling character with genuine struggles. In many ways he lives in two worlds: he is a nobleman's ward, but still more at home with the poor. He has powerful magic, but does not know how to use it. He is wise in his own way, yet lacks an understanding of the complexities of society. He stands at the cusp of adulthood and is child and adult both, making this a wonderful coming of age story.
I would place Shadowguard on the shelf next to early Harry Potter books. It makes a great read for a younger audience. The book is short, fast paced, and wastes no time on unnecessary exposition. If you are looking for a quick and entertaining read with a mythical twist this is the book for you. Personally, I would have liked more exposition and a more fleshed out cast, particularly among some of the minor characters. Since this is the first book of seven there is room to build on what is already there in future instalments.
I am not sure if I was just unlucky with my Kindle edition of the book, but the copy editing was a nightmare. At least once in every chapter there were missing or doubled words, which made the reading experience a jarring one. 2 of 5 stars.