Book Review – Dragon Mage

I have to thank twitter again for putting me onto Dragon Mage by ML Spencer. Jealously was a big factor in why I had to buy this, this is probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen in years. Illustrated by the incredibly talented Sutthiwat Dechakamphu, and designed by the excellent STK Kreations, this is a must for any hardback lovers bookshelves. This was the first time I had heard of ML Spencer and that is a mistake I will be rectifying as soon as I can buy her other books. She has written two other series; The Rhenwar Saga being a Semi-finalist in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO which in recent years seems to be one of the best untapped resources when it comes to Fantasy. I say untapped but I’m coming to think my knowledge of the Fantasy world is just lacking. Book twitter makes me feel like a novice.

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.

But Aram is more. Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honour among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

Our main character is a misfit boy named Aram; a boy who has spent his entire life shunned because of his differences. Aram sees the true colours of people and of the world, completely unaware of where this will lead him, tangling him in the schemes of others, the only one able to save the world from the disaster that awaits. I did worry slightly reading the blurb, it could come across that Spencer has created the classic fantasy character, a sort of Gary Stu, but there is no scene where he suddenly springs to his full potential, he isn’t a master warrior overnight. Aram’s story is filled with despair and struggle and those worries quickly slipped away. I genuinely haven’t felt such angst, pity, worry and every other emotion going towards a character since Fitz Chivalry in the Farseer Trilogy. Spencer fully went toe to toe with Robin Hobb in emotional torture and I think that’s partly the magic in this book, she quickly punches you in the gut, dancing over the lines of plot protection that leaves you afraid at times, but fully investing you to Aram’s story in a way that very few authors are able to do. Watching the boy grow, the many moments of misery and the few incredibly rewarding moments of joy, Spencer has written a truly relatable, very human character and it’s because of Spencer’s incredible writing of Aram that you latch on to this book more than anything.

“For now, I will abstain from plucking your wings. But take my advice: live each day as though it was your last, for every day from now forward is a gift from me. Yet also understand that every gift in this world comes with a price. Someday I will ask you to repay me for this mercy I have bestowed upon you”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

Now you could almost call this book a single POV story, almost completely focusing on Aram, but for brief moments over its 800+ pages we occasionally get first-hand snippets of Markus, Aram’s only friend and protector. Spencer did a wonderful job of writing the relationship between the two characters, , the snatches of his perspective that you get you can fully feel his emotions towards Aram, the same love and want to protect that mirrors the own readers. Aram and Markus are surrounded by the classic cast of fantasy characters that you expect to see, but Spencer’s skill to write realistic, fun to read characters is what turns this from a fairly classical fantasy story into something remarkable.

“After you hear something so many times, it starts to define you, and it eventually becomes a prison. He had been confined by that prison all his life, and now he feared the world outside its walls.”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

I’ve loved to read since I was young, as most of the book community have, but there is one series that really cemented my love for the fantasy genre. Christmas morning 2005, I’m fifteen years old, I unwrap a book shaped present, it is Eldest by Christopher Paolini, I didn’t own Eragon so on boxing day morning I ran down to WHSmiths and bought it. I devoured the books, eagerly waiting for the next two in the series and since then I’ve reread The Inheritance Cycle every year from when I was fifteen to about twenty-three and only stopped because I now have too many books in my TBR pile. It’s a flawed book, a lot of people have mixed feelings about it, and I can agree with those people on their points, but I have a deep love for it and always will.

Now first things first because my mum will be reading this and I don’t want a slap, I’m in no way slating my mother for her occasionally buying me the sequels of books. She picked the books I loved most over my young adult years and bestowed her excellent taste onto me, and I will be forever thankful to her. The reason I love to read, and read fantasy, is because of her.

Dragon Mage held a lot of similarities to Eragon for me in the sort of story it is, I’m not trying to say it’s a book heavily influenced by Eragon. Spencer has built a completely different world, a very new and unique magic system, completely different characters, even the Dragons are different in their ways and I can’t stress enough that Spencer wrote something new, something truly fun and addictive that had me reading from morning till night and meant I finished this monster in 3 days.  What I mean is Spencer’s books gave me that same sort of feeling the Inheritance Cycle did, the same amazement, the same joy. I love a coming-of-age story and Spencer did this incredibly well, stories of children that find themselves tied into some great plan, books that go take us through the journey from child to hero, the classic magic school, training montages, a grizzled old teacher to show them the ways. These types of books bring out this incredible level of nostalgia reminding me of when I was a kid and hoped I would get a letter through the door telling me I was a wizard or to go find a dragon egg in the mountains and become the first dragon rider in years and go flying off to save the world. Spencer’s book hit me right in these memories, she returned to me a sense of childlike awe and reunited me with feelings that I haven’t had from a book in a very long time. This is why this book has become so important to me, it is why it’s a book I will make my children read when they become the little nerds I mould them to be and it’s a book I will reread many times over the course of my life.

I’ve also mentioned this before, but I really love books with dragons.

The only nit-pick I did have with the book is I did sometimes feel the pacing was slightly off in scenes I expected to be bigger and more in-depth. A prime example being Aram’s first time meeting the council upon arriving in the world below, a scene I would have normally expected to last a chapter was over in two or so pages, and it seemed to happen at a few points in the book. However, I didn’t realise that this book was intended to be a standalone till I had finished and upon finding out that piece of information you quickly realise why some scenes had to be made shorter, to fit the incredible scope of Spencer’s story in a single book. This issues never affected fight scenes or big set pieces, and it was something that actually didn’t bother me massively, however just something that felt odd when comparing it to past books.

 I feel like a pretty poor reviewer lately because every review has had some sort of “This book has quickly become one of my favourites”, and really I can only blame the authors for this, not me, but in all honesty this book has gone straight to a top ten place. Spencer ended Dragon Mage incredibly well and left me feeling very fulfilled, however as mentioned this book was meant to be a standalone and since has been expanded into a series and I couldn’t be more ecstatic, I can’t wait to see what happens next. My main hope being that the next book brings us a more confident and happier Aram, Spence has plenty to expand on meaning we should get some amazing stories come out of this world. Buy this book, not only can I almost guarantee you will love it but also it looks so damn good on your bookshelf.

Thank you ML Spencer for making me feel fifteen again.