Title: The Mage on the Hill (The Web of Arcana #1)
Author: Angel Martinez
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Page Count: 170
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A young magic user who wants desperately to live. A jaded recluse who has forgotten what living means. They’re each other’s only chance.
Toby’s wild magic is killing him. The mage guilds have given up on him, and it’s only a matter of time before he dies in a spectacular, catastrophic bang. His only hope is an exiled wizard who lives in seclusion—and is rumored to have lost his mind.
The years alone on his hilltop estate have not been good for Darius Valstad. After the magical accident that disfigured him and nearly drowned Pittsburgh, he drifts through his days, a wraith trapped in memories and depression. Until a stricken young man collapses on his driveway, one who claims Darius is his last chance. For the first time in fifteen years, Darius must make a choice—leave this wild mage to his fate or take him in and try to teach him, which may kill them both. The old Darius, brash and commanding, wouldn’t have hesitated. Darius the exile isn’t sure he can find the energy to try.
Tobias “Toby” Kingston Freelander Jones is a young man with a huge problem: he has magic. But not classifiable magic, like almost everybody else—that would be no big deal. There are Guildhalls, one in each county, to teach and train you as soon as your major and minor arcana have been determined, i.e. the lines along which your magic works (air, water, metal, fire, to name but a few). No, he’s one of the rare people called Unplaceables, a term that indicates nobody’s able to detect his arcana; for some (unknown) reasons, his magic remains blocked within him and only gets released in extremely violent and dangerous outbursts that’ll kill him before long. The only solution the Guildhalls have come up with? The so-called Kovar Protocol to force your arcana to show. And if that fails? Well, you get nicely sedated, then shoved on a hospital bed, where you’re allowed to slowly starve to death. And that’s the only solution the Montchanin Guildhall offers Toby when their Kovar-attempt ends in a major blow-up of the examination room.
But Toby doesn’t want to die. Even though weakened by the Protocol, he googles the whereabouts of an outcast mage, Darius Valstad, about whom he has heard certain rumours. Apparently, the man came up with a different approach to help Unplaceables some years earlier, but then one of his pupils/patients killed herself and almost destroyed Pittsburgh, maiming her mentor in the process. He’s been removed from the academic mage circles and shunned by his peers and is hiding away in an old mansion ever since. But Toby manages to find his address, flees the Montchanin precincts, and reaches Valstads hideout. The former professor finds him stumbling through his garden, almost fainting with exhaustion, and against better judgment takes the young man in. What follows is a slow process of him nursing Toby back to health while eliminating certain arcana through mind-focussing games. When Toby’s fit enough to leave, it’s too late for Darius: he has already decided he’s going to help the young man. That’s because he’s starting to feel alive again… and maybe because he’s starting to have other feelings for his guest as well? And Toby? Does he only want to alleviate Darius’s grief, self-incriminations, and bone-deep loneliness? Or is there something else that draws him inexorably to the one-eyed, taciturn but sizzling hot older man? Will Darius be successful with his method? Time is of the essence because while the two of them are traveling from one magical confluence area to another trying to figure out what the heck Toby’s arcana could be, the Guildhall is tracking them down relentlessly… until…
‘nuff said. I will not disclose any further twist of the plot, because you really have to read this book for yourself and find out. I’ve seriously enjoyed the read from page 1, but let me tell you: from the point I teasingly hint at in my short summary until the end, I was reading like a maniac, with bated breath and a knotted stomach. Because Lord, does Angel Martinez know how to write! Does she know how to pace her story! Does she know how to deliver a thrilling reading experience!
Her world-building is plausible and so well done I didn’t pause for one second asking myself how or why the heck. Yes, there’s magic in the world, but it’s channeled and overseen by Guildhalls, sort of mage colleges (one can almost imagine “Levitation 101” classes), professors, methodology, and whathaveyounots—the whole lot of academia as we know it, in other words, but for magical users. Magic seems to be quite ordinary, unless you’re one of the unfortunate Unplaceables, of course. The whole world Angel Martinez proposes is enchanting, you get to see magic done, but there’s nothing forced or far-fetched about it. Yes, I admit, she pushes every single button I have when it comes to fantasy-with-magic books. The characters (main and secondary ones) are well sketched from the start, before Martinez fills them out with little, subtle touches, all very cleverly and wittily done. I loved how she depicted Toby’s urgency to live, how she made him slightly irreverent, youthfully innocent, trusting, sometimes a bit naive. He’s a very endearingly sweet guy anyone with a heart would want to help (and hug, and touch, and then… hrm, sorry, I got carried away). That he succeeds in melting down grief-stricken, self-reproaching Darius is just another clever thing that makes the subsequent romance so much more believable. Darius in turn is described in such a way that not only could I understand him and his motives, but also relate to the reaction he triggered of in Toby. I think I would have thought and done exactly the same things Toby did, including the eventually-falling-in-love-part.
I hope I sound as excited and enthusiastic about this book as I would like to sound. I don’t say this very often: I LOVED this book. A real gem, well-paced, with well-written thought processes, dialogues, character developments, a solid plot with the right amount of breath-taking suspense and heart-warming moments of romance and friendship. I’d only like to ask the author to please hurry up and deliver the rest of the series as fast as possible. Or at least the next installment—can’t wait to lay my hands and eyes on it.
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