From the start, this book reminded me of Harry Potter. The main character, an orphan named Wirt, mysteriously winds up at the Alchemists Academy. His arrival is a mystery, as the school is highly sought-after by students from many worlds and time periods and is highly competitive and even political: People don’t just “show up.” Still, the whole misfit-arriving-at-a-wizard-school smacked of Harry Potter. The author does try to distance herself from a Harry Potter connection: in one scene, the characters even discuss how the Academy is not like the silly stereotypes made popular by wizard books taking place in England.
In the beginning, as I was getting to know the main characters, I felt I was being told more than being shown. I felt too distanced from Wirt. I wanted to be inside his head. I would have liked more details—imagery from Wirt’s point of view, for instance—to make me feel like I know Wirt like a friend. For example, the school is actually composed of a giant tree. There’s some great potential for clever imagery here that I feel goes untapped.
That said, about thirty percent into the book, the characters seem developed enough to get lost in the storyline.
While Wirt is waiting for the adults at the school to figure out why he’s there and how long he has to stay before they can find a way for him to return home, he is enrolled in classes. He learns transmutation and glamour spells, and he—along with the rest of the school—is asked to participate in a Quest (Quests are an important part of the curriculum) to search for a chalice (though the Quest is soon cancelled suspiciously!). I enjoyed how the author weaves in Arthurian legend: one of the teachers, named Ms. Lake, is the Lady of the Lake. There’s also a mention of Merlin, which I hope is expanded upon in Book 2.
As Wirt becomes more involved in solving the Quest (even as he was told to stop!), he develops his friendships with Alana, Priscilla (the princess), and Spencer (his roommate), engaging in a bit of conflict and romance along the way. It’s clear that Wirt has more talent and “usefulness” than he realizes, and some of the teachers at the school seem to have plans—some sinister—for him. After the first third of the book, the story flies by, and I finished it in three sittings. I would especially recommend this book for male readers and anyone interested in books about magic. It doesn’t quite have the depth of Harry Potter, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I am reviewing the second book in the series next week, and I look forward to reading it!
I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The views expressed in the above review are my own.