by Shami Stovall
Magic. Sailing. A murderer among heroes.
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.
A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.
A flash of rain pelted the entire city, but only for a few seconds, as though the heavens coughed and forgot to cover their mouth. The man secured his pack shut, protecting his vegetables.
“Oh, this again,” he said.
“Does this happen often?”
“Storms happen frequently enough,” he replied. “This ain’t no storm, though. It’s those flashy arcanists. They like makin’ a show. Just you wait. You’ll see somethin’ good yet.”
Making a show?
I headed toward the docks. Despite the creeping chill, I moved with energy and purpose. Crowds of people clogged the roadways, making travel by foot damn near impossible, even for an arcanist. Frustrated, I jumped onto the wheels of a nearby carriage and used the extra height to pull myself onto the roof of a building. The A-frame roof made for a steep trek, but the tiles were easy to grip, even when wet.
Once on top, I turned my attention to the nearest pier.
A tremendous flash of lightning lit the sky. Thunder chased after, strong enough to rattle the windows and pierce straight to my bone. Luthair shifted through the shadows as another round lit the sky. I knew some arcanists could control the weather, but I had never seen a demonstration so showy before.
A flurry of snow soon followed, but like the rain, it lasted only a few seconds. People lifted their hands in the air, trying to catch the snowflakes as they approached the earth. Most evaporated before anyone could hold them, but I managed to catch a few on my tongue.
The ocean waters beyond the docks swirled into whirlpools. Two cyclones of saltwater rose upward, forming pillars of ocean as thick as forty oak trees, each stretching straight to the sky.
Rapt by the show of magic, I almost didn’t notice the massive leviathan snaking through the ocean. Its shiny scales glistened with each new flash of lightning. The serpent-like body must’ve been as long as ten galley ships and as thick as a three-mast sailing ship. Although the mystical creature never lifted his head out of the water, I already knew who he was.
Decimus—Gregory Ruma’s legendary leviathan.
~Buy KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST:
Without being a superhero novel, this ticked all the boxes for my slight superhero obsession. The vast array of mythical creatures and their magical abilities was fantastic. I loved the challenges the different characters faced (the main character, in particular). Combine that with some tight plot control, and you’ve got an action-packed tale of fantasy, mystery, and teen growth.
The first thing I noticed about this book was that it was a YA book with a male protagonist. I can count on one hand the number of YA (not middle grade with YA crossover) books I’ve seen with a male protagonist. Okay, slight exaggeration, perhaps, but the number of male protagonists compared to female protagonists is staggeringly low. Volke was someone worth cheering for. He is fiercely determined and will stop at nothing to better his situation. He doesn’t let the opinions of others stand in his way, especially when those opinions are about his family’s criminal history and how said history means Volke is worthless.
As often happens in life, though, Volke’s best qualities were sometimes his worst. There were points where I found Volke’s determination and doggedness a bit overwhelming. He jumped to conclusions about what people were implying and made rash choices, only to find out he was wrong and then have to furiously backpedal. His relationship with Zaxis, another arcanist from the same island, felt a bit like two teenage girls catfighting, which distracted me a lot. They didn’t “fight like boys,” If that makes sense. I did enjoy many of the secondary characters, both arcanist and creature. The tension between Volke and his practical-sister was cute. I did feel it came a bit out of nowhere—someone pointed out that there should be tension and suddenly there was. But once it got going, it was handled very well.
As far as the story itself, I got sucked in. I blew through this. It helps that there are superhero and magic school themes—two things I fall for. Add in a ride upon the back of a giant (giant!) sea turtle, a plague infecting mythical creatures, and uncertainty about mentors, and there’s so much going on in here. I never felt lost or confused. I just watched the story unfold and quite enjoyed myself while doing it.
Overall, though there were a few things that tripped me up, I really liked this book. Fans of the elements I’ve mentioned would be served by grabbing a copy. If you’re worried about the “teen tension,” I won’t tell you not to worry. It’s a YA book. There are teen issues, and some of them are more forefront than others. In the bigger scheme, the story is amazingly detailed. The world is diverse and described beautifully, and the magic is well-rounded. “Teen tension” aside, I recommend reading this book.
Shami Stovall relies on her BA in History and Juris Doctorate to make her living as an author and history professor in the central valley of California. She writes in a wide range of fiction, from crime thrillers to fantasy to science-fiction. Stovall loves reading, playing video games, entertaining others with stories, and writing about herself in the third person.
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