First Year by Rachel E. Carter is an action-packed and strong magical start to The Black Mage series!
A magical academy where potential mages train and study all things magic, a love-hate relationship with an arrogant prince, and a determined and unyielding female heroine? Sign me up.
First Year, is quite literally, about the first year of 15-year old Ryiah, her twin brother Alex, her newfound friend Ella, and many other mages in the Academy, a war school for those who desire to hone their magical abilities. There are one hundred and twenty or so applicants interested in fifteen positions, five to each specialty – Restoration, Alchemy, and Combat, the last one being the hardest of them all. To determine who is best qualified for these fifteen apprenticeships, these students will go through a grueling and tough year full of mental and physical training to prove if they’re up to the task. And if they’re not? They drop out and face the shame and embarrassment.
Failure isn’t an option to Ryiah, who just found out her powers actually existed a few days before her and her brother were supposed to be at the Academy. But she’s now behind and struggling to catch up in order to compete with the likes of Prince Darren (the non-heir as he’s known), and his group of high-class mages. It doesn’t help that the only way that she can conjure magic is by inflicting pain on herself.
So what does Ryiah do? She works overtime and pushes herself 200% to succeed. If you’re looking for motivation, Ryiah is definitely motivational. She studies late into the night, she trains with her friend Ella, and once she runs into Prince Darren in the library, she trains with him too!
But magic isn’t the only thing going on in this Academy. The more she runs into Prince Darren, the more confused Ryiah feels about him. Is he her enemy, her friend, or more? And it doesn’t help that there’s jealousy and traitorous intentions behind some of the mages.
Honestly, I was impressed with Ryiah’s resilience. Even when she failed (and trust me, she did fail a lot), she would only strive to do better. She’s a great female heroine, with her courage and determination, and she certainly was believable. Rachel Carter threw Ryiah into a ton of difficult situations, and she used each loss as a growing point, and I loved that she developed and became much stronger over the course of the book.
Another character I’d like to highlight, and I absolutely loved his interaction with Ryiah, was Prince Darren. He made me realize I have a habit of liking arrogant princes, and the tension between the two of them was intense. His character was complicated, and so were his intentions – and I’m hoping to see more of Ryiah and Darren interaction in the sequel, Apprentice.
The pacing of the novel was neither too slow nor too fast, and it progressed through Ryiah’s first year with her developing and growing and learning from her mistakes as time went on. Now the plot of the novel lacked some details on how exactly magic worked or why some skills were learned before others. Or why mages weren’t allowed to sit on the throne, or learn magic. There was also not as much world-building in this first book, but hopefully we will see more of the world of Jerar in the sequel. A final critique is the occasional grammar errors – a few missed words here and some oddly phrased sentences there didn’t ruin the experience, but it is something to watch out for.
Nevertheless, First Year was an entertaining read, full of magic and determination, and fantasy lovers and those seeking strong heroines (and arrogant princes!) will be sure to enjoy it!
My grade: B+
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