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The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee

7/10 The last quarter of the book in particular is excellent: death and magic, zombies and assassins, fig

We start 'The Sentinel Mage' as the curse breaks free in the Seven Kingdoms. Only the blood of prince Harkeld can lift the curse.
Innis is part of a group of shapeshifting mages, tasked with breaking the curse and saving the seven lands. Standing between them and their goal are; the seven Kingdoms, assassins, the living dead, a looming war, and the fear and prejudice that people have against mages. Simples?

The story follows three separate threads: the mages and the prince, the sister the prince leaves behind and Jaume, a boy fleeing the curses spread from the far end of the seven Kingdoms. The three paths are nicely interwoven allowing the tale to crack along at a fair pace. The action sequences of the mages' flight balances the tense political machinations of the prince's father and his sister's efforts to thwart them. The boy's fate serves to remind us of the impending doom.

A couple of grumbles with this book: firstly, at times, it reads a little too much like a romance novel. Not that I think sex should be completely absent from fantasy novels, indeed many writers seem to suffer an attack of adolescent bashfulness when the matter is approached. I just found that, at times, the sex in this novel was a little unnecessary and distracted from the core story. Secondly, the villainous characters (the Prince's father and the princess enforced husband) are a little on the pantomime baddy side – no redeeming features at all. Also the peripheral characters, such as the other mage's are a little interchangeable. I found myself forgetting who was who, although this may have more to do with my limited attention span.

To its credit, the novel tackles quite a difficult subject – that of sexual ambiguity – with a great deal of skill and subtlety. Innis, the aforementioned mage, is forced to assume the guise of a man to gain the confidence of the bigoted prince. As they inevitably draw closer together (I warned you about the romance thing) the prince is forced to confront his own prejudices, not only about mages but about his feelings for the Innis.

Is this a cop-out? Are we being patronised by the thought that it's not really a man he has feelings for, but a woman in a man's form? Despite skirting the issue by having the prince dream of the female mage, I would answer not really. Rather than using the characters sexual orientation as a focal point for the story (or worse a stick to beat the reader with) it adds depth and textures to the tale. I'd be interested to see how this issue is resolved in the next few books.

One last grumble (I promise). Don't use the word “crap” in a fantasy story. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It took me about three pages before I stopped being annoyed at its insertion.

Overall, it's a good read. The last quarter of the book in particular is excellent: death and magic, zombies and assassins, fighting and fleeing. What more could you ask for?

As the first in a trilogy, I look forward to seeing the story reach its climax, if you pardon the pun.

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