A School For Sorcery
by E. Rose Sabin
Recommended Age: 12+
In the vast land of Arucadi, magical gifts are rare, and mostly viewed with disdain or even downright suspicion. Normals (non-magical folks) fear and envy the Gifted, and it doesn’t help matters when power is misused or harm is done to the community by the activities of the Gifted. So in the School for Sorcery hinted at by this book’s title, a major part of the course of study is the ethical-moral dimension of power use, and teaching young Gifted to control their talents responsibly.
One such gifted is Tria Tesserell, a farm girl from the central plains, who gets her acceptance letter and brochure for the prestigious Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted. After a childhood of hard work in which the use of her gifts is forbidden, Tria hardly knows what gifts she has. But to the Simonton School she goes—a sort of three-year, senior-high level magnet school for magically talented youngsters throughout the land of Arucadi.
After the acceptance letter, any resemblance to Hogwarts ends. Simonton is actually a very small academy, and on the face of it not very attractive. And Tria’s troubles begin right away, when an inadvertant use of powers she didn’t know she had gets her into trouble, and her roommate turns out to be a conniving, ambitious little minx who can turn into a deadly panther when the mood strikes her. And at first Tria is so unimpressed by the faculties, the curriculum, the building, and the food that she thinks the whole school is a fraud—especially the Headmistress, who is as cool as ice, and the mysterious school maid named Veronica, who seems to have more going on than floor wax.
But the worst happens at what could be described, for the convenience of Harry Potter fans, as the Yule Ball. A coterie of second-year boys, led by a power-hungry, amoral slimeball named Oryon Brew, summon Dire Women from the nether realms, take a person very dear to Tria captive, and issue a challenge to Headmistress. Basically, if someone doesn’t rescue the two young men who have been spirited away within one year, Oryon and his buddies will take over the school, chuck out all the lessons about morals and responsibility, and retool the school toward a philosophy that would have done Professor “There is no good and evil” Quirrel proud. I quote: “One may do what one has the power to do.”
The task of taking up that challenge falls, of course, to Tria. But it’s a bumpy ride for her, as she struggles with her own moral dilemmas, makes mistakes that have tragic consequences, learns to travel between worlds, and discovers more and more of her hidden talents. It is a lonely adventure for a scared, desperate young heroine, and one that probes more and more deeply into the workings of a fascinating new world of magic. The story gathers not only tension and danger, but also weirdness and complexity, until it reaches a ripping good climax.
Be prepared for horror and romance, mystery and intrigue, shocking violence, and a cast of interesting characters, each with different gifts and flaws. Also, be prepared for an equally entertaining prequel, A Perilous Power. This is a magnificent first novel from a new talent that could be a threat to Diana Wynne Jones, if not J. K. Rowling. So look out!
A Perilous Power
by E. Rose Sabin
Recommended Age: 12+
Set in the same land of Arucadi as her earlier book A School for Sorcery, this promising new author takes us back to a time before the founding of the Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted—a time when an eighteen-year-old farm boy named Les, having recently learned that he is magically Gifted but has no apparent powers to speak of, follows his powerfully magical best friend Trevor Blake to the big city of Port-of-Lords. There the two boys hope to be welcomed into the Community of the Gifted, to escape from the suspicion and persecution of those suspected of magical powers back home. Trevor also hopes to find a teacher to help him learn to control his powers. Les needs someone to tell him what his powers are, if he has any.
But their plans do not get off to a good start. Fresh off the train in Port-of-Lords, they fall prey first to a con-man, then to other calamities. Eventually a cleaning-woman named Veronica finds them penniless and in jail, and rescues them. But Trevor, always reckless and brimming with youthful bad judgment, spurns Veronica’s offer of magical guidance, and through one foolish decision after another, he embroils himself (and therefore his best friend) in the plight of a magically abused girl, the ambitions of a thief who specializes in stealing magical power, and the designs of an evil Adept who wants but one more weapon to seize control of the whole Community. And between Trevor and Les, he seems to have found the weapon he needs.
Here is a fast-paced, action-packed, mind-blowing tale of magical warfare, mortal danger, romance, friendship, personal redemption, and exquisite suspense. What becomes of the two best friends is an issue that gripped me and kept my eyes glued to the page. I expect it to work the same magic on you. Once again, Sabin comes through with a tale that I think compares well to the work of Diana Wynne Jones.
UPDATE: This author continues to write books set in the same fantasy world as those reviewed above. A third book in this set, already published, is titled When the Beast Ravens. The Florida-based writer is shown here with her dogs B'Elanna and Dax.