Fantasy novel about a noble born girl sent to learn magic
Lockdown in Canberra continues, and I am still making an effort to chip away at my to-read shelf by whatever means necessary. One thing I realised is that I have a lot of fantasy books that, for some reason or another, I just have never gotten around to reading. I picked up this book when the author held a fantastic fantasy trivia night about 3 years ago that my fantasy book club went along to and absolutely dominated. In addition to winning a prize, I bought a copy of the first book in the author’s series and had it signed.
“Darkskull Hall” by Lisa Cassidy is the first novel in the fantasy series “The Mage Chronicles”. The story is about a 16 year old called Alyx who is of noble blood and who lives a privileged, carefree life. All she thinks about is riding her pony and the budding romance with her oldest friend. However, her idyllic life comes to a grinding halt when she is told that she is the daughter of a mage and must go study across her nation’s border at a place called Darkskull Hall. The journey through contested territory is perilous, and some at Darkskull Hall even more so. Without any clear magic ability, knowledge of her true history or the protection of her family, Alyx must forge new friendships and find the courage to survive.
This is a readable book and Cassidy captures the voice of a teenage girl struggling with the abrupt transition from her previously pampered life. I enjoyed the gradual character development and while it is incremental, Cassidy does a good job of showing how the experience of Darkskull Hall, and loss of trust as a result, irreparably changes who Alyx is as a person. One thing that was incredibly refreshing was that Cassidy actually clearly knows a thing or two about horses, unlike some other fantasy novels I’ve read recently.
This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking example of the genre, and plenty of the hallmarks of a typical fantasy novel were there: magic school, yet-to-be-discovered magical talent, war with neighbouring country, irritatingly and unnecessarily vague teacher. Reading this, I had the sense that despite the diversity of the characters, the world is quite small and we don’t get much sense of different languages, cultures and geographies. I am sure the world gets explored more in later books.
I wasn’t sure after reading this book whether I would read the next in the series, but I was pleasantly surprised that it really got under my skin. This is, at heart, a character-driven book and I kept finding myself thinking about them after the book was finished.