Monday, May 1, 2017

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger is the first book in a brand new YA fantasy series from Hot Key books by acclaimed fantasy author Sebastien de Castell. Spellslinger is the story of Kellen who at 15 is preparing for the mage trials. These are the magical duels in which young mages get to show off their skills. Kellen's only problem is that his magic is fading instead of getting stronger and if he can't prove himself as a Jan'Tep mage he will end up as a servant; a Sha'tep with no magic. So he pretends to have magic and cheats his way through the trials, until he loses a duel and is almost killed. Rescued by a sassy, female card player who has nothing but disdain for magic Kellen soon finds himself opposing his own people and making choices he never thought he would. This is powerful, page-turning and incredibly humorous writing. Perfect for fans of Rebel of the Sands and A Darker Shade of Magic. There is real originality in the storytelling and some amazing characterisation. I particularly like the fact that there are a number of strong and interesting female characters. I am very excited to continue this series and I can highly recommend it to fantasy fans YA or otherwise. 

I asked the author Sebastien de Castell to tell me about the five books that have had the biggest impact on his writing. 

5 Books That Influenced My Writing

1. Moonheart by Charles De Lint

I'd never even heard the term "urban fantasy" until I read de Lint's Moonheart, but this story of magic and myth set in a mysterious house in Ottawa, Canada soon made it a favourite genre of my teenage years. De Lint made the ordinary magical, and it became impossible to walk by interesting old buildings without wondering whether evidence of the fae might be found inside, or pass by a pub and hear a Celtic band playing, and wonder if perhaps they were summoning more than just music. I imagine Charles de Lint, having written so many acclaimed stories over the years, would rightfully feel he long ago surpassed his early work, but to me, Moonheart was enchanting in every sense of the word.

2. The Golden Compass (a.k.a. Northern Lights) by Phillip Pullman

Everything about Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is enthralling. His heroine, Lyra Belacqua is brilliant, daring, and deceitful; the world he creates is full of armoured polar bears and personal daemons, anbaric devices and wonderfully complex alethiometers. Yet none of these fantastical elements would be nearly as captivating were it not for the darkness that Pullman unflinchingly exposes his characters to in the books. People aren't all nice, parents aren't all loving, and religion, authority, and society itself are all exposed as constructions that need to be challenged. For a writer, His Dark Materials is an invitation to question the often self-imposed boundaries of what themes can be explored in a book for children and young adults.

By the way, the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife, has one of my very favourite passages in all of literature:

She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion.

3. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Neither a fantasy nor a mystery nor a literary nor a . . . Well, if you really think about it, When We Were Orphans – like most of Ishiguro's novels – defies genre categorization. At the same time, it's a remarkably accessible and engrossing story in which the reader is never entirely sure what's going on, but always wants to see what will happen next. When We Were Orphans was the book that taught me that not only could a narrator be at least a little unreliable in relaying the facts of the story, but that we need to recognize that all narrators are unreliable to one degree or another, and this is, in part, what allows a novel to lay bare its deeper truths for us.

4. Jhereg by Steven Brust

Jhereg was the first fantasy novel I'd ever read in which people didn't speak in a fake version of Medieval English full of thee's and thou's. It taught me that voice is just as important in telling a story as character, and that you can build a wide cast of entertaining and imaginative characters without having to spend hundreds of pages on exposition and backstory. I love the web of relationships that Brust builds around his hero, Vlad, while still making him feel isolated from everyone but his familiar, the small dragon (and eponymous Jhereg), Loiosh.

5. City of Thieves by David Benioff

You wouldn't expect the guy who brought us the screenplay for X-Men Origins: Wolverine to have written a brilliant novel of friendship, hardship, and daring set in Stalingrad during World War II, but David Benioff's City of Thieves is all that and more. It's a brilliantly told tale full of twists and turns as two men are offered a chance at survival if they can find a dozen eggs in a city where no one's seen a chicken in ages. In some ways City of Thieves is reminiscent of the picaresque novels that began in the 16th Century, with our two protagonists going through a series of adventures in a setting that is at once familiar to us and almost unimaginably strange. Oh, and in case the name sounds familiar, it's because Benioff went on to be the showrunner for Game of Thrones.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell is published 4th May by Hot Key Books, price £12.99 in hardback

Thanks a million to Sophie Goodfellow for a copy

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