Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rotten Magic by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (prequel)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / YA
Number of pages: 122
Publisher: Twigboat Press

What Goodreads has to say:

Devin will do anything to win. Even resort to magic!

Devin competes to become the best artificer in the mage phobic Iron Empire. Who needs magic when you can master the art of machinery? The other apprentices envy his genius and skills . . . especially Benson. Every apprentice hones their craft building and fighting in crude prototypes of powered armor. Some add frills, others barbs or horns. When Devin transforms himself into a mechanical dragon to slaughter the competition, Benson steps into the role of dragon slayer.

But Devin harbors a secret as he claws his way to the top of the Artificer's Guild: he's a mage. These new abilities are thrilling and frightening, and the voices more so. How long can Devin be content wearing a steel dragon mask when the seductive promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Experience the novella prequel to the Artifice Mage Saga: a fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

If you're looking for a book that reads like a steampunk version of Ender's Game with magic and an element of dragons - look no further. You're currently reading a review of that book. A slim novella packed with punches, Jeffrey Bardwell's Rotten Magic starts off the Artifice Mage Saga with a bang (several, in fact). Setting and characters are intriguing, relationships are complex, ambition is powerful, and magic is dangerous. 

Devin is an intriguing character because he doesn't fit nicely into the young underdog genius mold. At first, he seems to: a young, intelligent apprentice working on a secret project, regularly taking the brunt from the school bullies. 

But as things go on, we realize that's not Devin at all. He is intelligent, but his secret project isn't all that original, and he can't even seem to get it to work when he tries to present it at his examination.

He does often take the brunt from the school bullies, but that's only because he seems to enjoy fighting and has accepted the rule that the dragon always loses. And he prefers to play as the dragon. Far from just an innocent young victim, Devin longs for retribution and it looks like he's going to get it. He can be savage when crossed, and even his family and friends aren't always safe. 

Rather than some young genius who's probably going to save the world with his invention, Devin is a frustrated apprentice who has big ideas that never seem to get off the ground, and he may very well end up destroying the world, rather than saving it. That makes him less of an idealized fantasy hero and more of a, well, human. But one with a dark side that makes him all the more compelling.

Devin's nemesis, Benson, doesn't fit the common character mold either. He's a bully - but as Devin points out, he's not just your average bully with no brain but plenty of brawn. Benson is intelligent as well, and that's mainly why Devin is having such a hard time taking him down.

But back to Devin himself. He becomes even more intriguing as a character when we hear the voices inside his head (yes, everyone has those voices, but Devin's seem to be more vocal than most of ours are). In Devin's thoughts, the voice of the artificer and the voice of the mage are always in conflict. Like the gas lamp he accidentally blows up in his room, Devin is poised to explode at any moment, and when he does, the consequences will be dire. (But you might just have to read the next book to find out how dire.)

Told in an engaging style with suspense, wry humor, and a strong undercurrent of magic, Rotten Magic is a thrilling roller coaster of a ride up to the top - where I expect we can catch the next book and set off on an even more thrilling journey. Bring it on!


Until tomorrow.

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