Finn and Rocio come from different worlds. One has money, status, and blue blood family connections that guarantee a place in society, but limited magical talent. The other is everything in reverse, a fiery power that can paint dragons in the sky for fun, but has had a life filled with pain and struggle, including losing an older brother to the deadly Mages' Exam they both now face. It's a survival of the fittest, Hunger Games-style free for all and it turns out that the prize of becoming one of the North American Confederation of Mages's Chosen might not be all it's cracked up to be. But since failure means having their magic dulled or worse, death, it's not an option. The only way out is through, but each person must chose how far they'll go to win...
Both characters are pretty likeable and despite the instalove thing, they make an interesting pair. Neither are the typical frontrunners, they're more vulnerable with genuinely framed insecurities and backstories that explain their character and actions throughout. That said, neither they nor the plot offer anything particularly new or overwhelmingly engaging. Dystopian YA is a crowded market and this doesn't add much to it. The voices aren't distinctive enough and while there are some good ideas/moments threaded through the book, the overarching feeling is that it's been done before.
So now on to my major issue with the book, the weirdly inappropriate choices made for effect rather than reason. Primarily, this is revealed in an early scene when, to show Finn how dangerous a magical item was, his sister murdered her own pet with it. Melted her own pet in fact. Seriously. Could she not have, I don't know, used her WORDS?? If I warn someone about the deadly nature of a gun, I don't need to shoot someone in the head with it right in front of them. Look, see....how could you ever have known how dangerous this was unless you were covered in blood and brain matter?? It was just an excuse to describe mutilating an animal and I really can't abide that kind of thing. There was no point to it whatsoever. None. Violence for shock value and sick thrills is a big nope from me and I'm not going to lie, it put me in annoyed frame of mind that affected the rest of my reading. It's not the only scene in which the desire to show brutality outweighed plot or necessity, including a rather offhand reveal about part of the test that showed a careless disregard for human life to go alongside the animal. This shorthand for edginess is tired and I'm not a fan.
Hopefully the next in the series will address some of these issues. There's certainly enough going on in the background to allow for growth and the ending is indicative of the revolution that's got to come. Overall an easy read and worth a go if you like high action YA with some memorable magic.
Review by Emma Davis
6/10 from 1 reviews
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