The first book in Mitchell Hogan‘s Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, A Crucible Of Souls, is already a winner, having snagged the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel back when it was a self-published novel. Now, the Australian author has signed on with Harper Voyager for a revised reprint of the series, and after having read this first installment, I can see why the publisher would want to take a chance on it. It’s a well-written coming-of-age tale told in a high fantasy setting complete with magic, spells, secrets, and mysteries.
A Crucible Of Souls centers on Caldan, an orphan who was raised and educated by monks who took him in at a young age after his parents died. Since the other students at the remote monastery come from rich, prestigious families, Caldan has always known his place — keep his head down, learn as much as he can, and appreciate the life he was given because there are others like him who are not as fortunate. While he grew up without the love and support of a family, he does have one friend he’s close to, Jemma, a fellow student with the potential to become more than friends with him one day. In the meantime, the young man is preparing for his future, with the hopes of leaving his island habitat to move to the city to work once he’s completed his studies, as he’s shown great skill for the magical talent of crafting. But after an altercation with another student, the monks expedite Caldan’s original plans, sending him off to the city with nothing but a few family heirlooms and a new piece of information about his parents and the possible dangers he now faces.
Every few chapters, the storyline deviates from Caldan onto Lady Caitlyn, a crusader leading her band of warriors on a violent quest to find and destroy the jukari, a fresh-eating ancient race that was created during The Shattering, a cataclysmic event that caused a lot of the knowledge of magic to be lost. Caitlyn thinks nothing of the casualties of her mission, which is to rid the world of evil. “The first step to hunting evil is to show no mercy,” she tells her men, and she means it, as she tortures people for information and kills even the innocent if they inadvertently hinder her plans. Eventually, the relevance of this side plot will be revealed, but it’s not until much later in this 500-page novel.
Like many offerings in the fantasy genre, A Crucible Of Souls opens with a Prologue, hinting at important events that occurred before the main story. How exactly this opening relates to Caldan isn’t known right away, so you’ll have to keep this information in mind for later.
Early on, the story veers into the social politics of the teenaged students, and what amounts to high school drama begins. Since Caldan is an orphan on the cusp of manhood with little knowledge of his lineage who lives at what is essentially a boarding school where magic is practiced where he has to deal with a rich, snobby nemesis who picks on him just because of his circumstances, I assumed that this would turn into a Harry Potter-like tale for young readers. Thankfully, it did not — not that I don’t love the Harry Potter series, because I definitely do. But this book sets itself up early as a epic fantasy, so I just didn’t want to see it to morph into a YA novel. I had a feeling that Caldan was going to have to grow up fast and start learning the ways of the Force so to speak, so I just didn’t want it to get saddled down with petty teen pranks and endless scenes where the poor orphan boy is being bullied. Once we get to the end of the scene at the school that seals Caldan’s fate, it’s obvious that his story is about to get dark.
Since this is a new universe where magic is practiced but its origins are mostly unknown, we can’t fathom what Caldan is actually up against or even how he’s going to get by from day to day. Hogan paints a picture for us of a seaside town with rogues and pickpockets, with deception around every corner. It’s not the place for a young man who’s never interacted with the real world, but Caldan has talents he never even knew he had. But, even with all his defenses, the young man is in danger — if not from the mysterious forces of evil then from the common street thief! Simultaneously, there’s Lady Caitlyn’s world, which is an aspect of life that Caldan has no clue about because he’s been sheltered his whole life at the monastery.
I enjoyed getting to know Caldan and the Sorcery Ascendant world the author has created, and found the book to be an engrossing read. Hogan weaves an impressive tale that’s quick-paced without feeling like it’s written with a big-screen adaptation in mind. It’s descriptive without being overly bogged down in minute, irrelevant details or becoming repetitive. While A Crucible Of Souls is reminiscent of other epic fantasy offerings, the familiarity doesn’t detract from it, but rather earns it a high spot amongst the other greats of the genre. Hogan truly does have a winner on his hands with this debut novel, and I eagerly await Harper’s publishing of the remaining two books of the series.
A Crucible Of Souls, Book One of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, will be released in the United States by Harper Voyager on September 22, 2015.
Taken in by monks after his parents died, Caldan has lived a quiet, studious life. Though the other students treat him as an outcast charity case, he has a few close friends and an aptitude for Casting that fill his life and give him hope for the future. That hope is destroyed, though, after the monks reveal the brutal truth about his parents’ deaths and now someone is asking questions about them around the monastery.
After one terrible incident with a fellow student, Caldan is forced to leave the only home he’s ever known immediately, with only two mysterious heirlooms from his parents and a handful of coins to his name. But the world outside the monastery is more perilous than Caldan ever could have imagined, and he must be on his guard at every turn for unknown enemies hunting him and the treasures he doesn’t even know he holds.