Gravedigger Volke Savan wants nothing more than to be like his hero, the legendary magical swashbuckler, Gregory Ruma. First he needs to become an arcanist, someone capable of wielding magic, which requires bonding with a mythical creature. And he’ll take anything—a pegasus, a griffin, a ravenous hydra—maybe even a leviathan, like Ruma.
So when Volke stumbles across a knightmare, a creature made of shadow and terror, he has no reservations. But the knightmare knows a terrible secret: Ruma is a murderer out to spread corrupted magic throughout their island nation. He’s already killed a population of phoenixes and he intends to kill even more.
In order to protect his home, his adopted sister, and the girl he admires from afar, Volke will need to confront his hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma.
The Knightmare Arcanist is one of those books that grabs you from the very first page. It manages to cram so much into its pages that when you look back to the start point it feels like a whole trilogy has passed! Volke was an instantly likeable character, determined and yet vulnerable by his desperation to become an Arcanist and move away from a simple gravediggers apprentice and his dubious heritage. The early stages of the story, as he endeavours to prove his worth, make for an explosive opener. His dynamic with fellow apprentice and Arcanist wannabe, Illia, is thoughtfully played out (for the most part) and their foster sibling connection makes for a unified team rather than the overplayed sibling rivalry it could have been. There is a great supporting cast and Zelfree was just amazing, like a Haymitch Abernathy, and was the perfect antidote to the overbearingly smug Ruma. I do wish that the blurb had been a little less forthcoming about Ruma’s character though as it felt like a large chunk of the suspense was removed because of it. The backdrop of the plague was ominous and ironically those on his namesake island blissfully unaware of the depth of problem which leads to some shocking discoveries. The impact leads to some terrifying moments and the story does take a gruesome turn from time to time, especially during the epic closing set piece.
I really loved the magic system, each Arcanist pairing with an Eldrin who range from the mythical to the somewhat unusual, honestly one made me do a double take, but I enjoyed that the more humble of sealife got to shine for once! The magic is simple and effective, each Eldrin has a skill which is enhanced and manipulated by bonding with an Arcanist, whilst we have the usual elemental control, Volke finds himself being the master of shadow and his Knightmare
Unfortunately this story missed off the 5th star for me because of a problematic and completely unnecessary passage which didn’t drive the story forward at all. Whilst I’m fond of a drink myself I felt that the notion of dutch courage for a girl to feel pretty enough to approach a boy was reductive, the idea that a character indicates that they are teetotal and another one says that they’ll soon change that, was unnecessary and almost sinister that a young adult couldn’t make their own choices about alcohol without peer pressure from others. The whole passage was awkward and weird and marred an otherwise flawless read.
There were a few nods to some established fantasy series throughout which I really enjoyed, like little Easter eggs within the story, which flowed well and was full of pace and suspense. The author did a great job of combining background whilst progressing the story and never gives you too much information at once. The Knightmare Arcanist is a really great read, filled with fantastic characters and a story that will keep you on your toes, it’s a series that I’ll definitely want to continue!
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Shami Stovall is a multi-award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, with several best-selling novels under her belt. Before that, she taught history and criminal law at the college level, and loved every second. When she’s not reading fascinating articles and books about ancient China or the Byzantine Empire, Stovall can be found playing way too many video games, especially RPGs and tactics simulators.
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