Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Potter She's Not

Review: Schooled In Magic by Christopher Nuttall

There was an explosion of magic-boarding-school (MBS) novels once J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter got going. I have a number of such series, Book 1 of, sitting on a well-stuffed fantasy bookshelf. Few of them were worth buying Book 2—if one was even produced. 

Then there's Christopher Nuttall's Emily. Yes, Emily began in a shockingly-abusive family situation, was rescued, and learned she had magical abilities. Still not a Harry Potter knock-off, though, and here's the difference: her MBS is in a different universe. Because her mother was named Destiny, 16-year-old Emily was kidnapped to be a sacrifice by a sorcerous necromancer named Shadye. 

Well, he had asked the fairies to bring him a "Child of Destiny." Ouch! (And not the only allusion or pun warped into the narrative, either.)

Rescued by another sorcerer, Emily is discovered to have magical abilities, so she is sent off to Whitehall, the aforementioned MBS, where she encounters all the typical school bullies, grim-disciplinarian teachers and sports-mad students. And magic.

Emily's really good at it, too, except Alchemy, where she can't figure out why it matters how many times she stirs a recipe. Charms is her forte, perhaps because she regards them as something like a computer program. She would be perfectly happy at Whitehall, if it weren't for two things. One is a bully named Alassa, a princess with a bad attitude, who picks on Emily and her roommate Imaiqah.

The other is an elective course in Martial Magic, in which Emily is the youngest student. Think Marine Boot Camp, with hexes and Orcs in place of push-ups and mosquitos. While Emily tries to cope with these issues, she's also striving to remember things from Earth that would help her new world. Bras, Arabic numerals, and the like. An abacus. Maybe a word processor to save her fingers from writing long essays. 

And flush toilets, definitely! In fact, all kinds of plumbing, because having magic has side-tracked technology, and non-magic users in this world—even those with money—live in medieval squalor.

The first novel in a series can sometimes be a bit scattered, as the author builds a world and populates it with people and ideas. Nuttall has done a good job of restricting his world building for this novel to the MBS, with hints of the broader world around it to come into play in later books. Emily is not perfect, and that's just right. Her nemesis Alassa isn't either, and that, too, is just right.

This promises to be a series about magic and the world that has something new to say, and says it well. I'm off to read #2: Lessons in Etiquette.