Sebastien de Castell has written a fantastic series of books – six of them in all – that kept me entertained throughout the previous summer. Available in print, ebook and audio formats, I listened to the first four (exceptional performances) and read the final two in print so that I could get a feel for the actual presentation of the story in a traditional format and enjoy the added illustrations in situ. The finale includes a stunning map of Eldrasia – hopefully included in all titles when they come up for a reprint.
What’s the series about?
The Spellslinger books are pretty much a coming of age story set in the fantasy world of Eldrasia and focusing on magic, or the lack of it, with most of the accepted norms turned on their head – expect lots of contradictions from start to finish. In the land of the Jan’Tep, powerful mages have the ability to draw on the seven magics and pass a series of four trials to become a mage. However, Kellen, despite being the son of one of the most formidable mages in the clan, has no magical ability whatsoever. As an alternative he develops skills in playing magic tricks, with just a hint of magic and mostly clever manipulations, illusions and misdirections and this is the inspiration for the series title – he becomes a spell slinger – like a gun slinger – but with cards, speed and a good aim, rather than a gun and bullets. By the last book he has become an adept in his own unique field of magic.
Kellen also tends to make poor choices – to make bad situations worse – and he is the despair of his young (and extremely talented and magical) sister Shalla. Kellen becomes an outcast because of his lack of magical ability, and as the series progresses, his affliction – the Shadowblack. These black markings that weave around his face make him a fugitive and a threat to his people and therefore on every mage’s hit list for assassination.
Each book sees Kellen in a new realm with different people, customs and problems and in each he and his travelling buddies, who he accumulates in deadly and dreadful circumstances, are faced with danger, treachery and a dire situation to resolve. As such, each book stands alone in regard to a complete adventure, but each is also a slice of a far grander scheme. Characters and events interweave until a final direction and purpose becomes clear and the individual stories are superbly intertwined in the culminating adventure. The saga unfolds over three years and Kellan grows up from a gangling just 16 year old to a 19 year old trickster read to face the world and forge his own destiny. As Kellen matures, so does the content with some romantic and not so romantic encounters and some quite brutal encounters. However, these are not overly explicit or frequent and in keeping with an eye-ball eating main character.
The titles each present a complete adventure within an overall saga as Kellan grows up from a 16 year old failing in magic to a 19 year old trickster forging his own destiny. As such, the content does mature in keeping with Kellen, so there are some romantic, and not so romantic moments and definitely some grim and brutal encounters – but these are never excessively explicit and in keeping with a book where one of the key players plucks eye balls from its victims!
Make friends with some amazing characters
The main supporting cast, Reichis and Ferius, – perhaps sidekicks is a more accurate description – guide Kellen in surviving and making sound, or not so sound, decisions. Each of these become an integral part of Kellen’s personal journey in terms of growing up and “becoming the man he is meant to be”. They also provide opportunities for philosophical, political and religious debate delivered with bucket loads of humour – some slapstick and some more subtle.
Rescued from banding (to restrict all magic) by his father, Ferius Parfax, an Argosi wanderer, becomes Kellen’s unofficial mentor and through trial, and usually painful error, teaches Kellen the way of the Argosi with deep philosophical, and oft amusing, commentary spattered throughout. She challenges him to act in accordance with his conscience, and to look at the hypocrisy of his society. “Here endeth the lesson” as his mentor would say – frequently! Ferius plays hard, fights hard and drinks harder and it is through her guidance that Kellen masters card playing but also card slinging, which inspires his self-taught ability of spellslinging using explosive powders to propel his card weapons. The Argosi travel to places where they think people or events that have the potential to change the world occur, usually alone, so as solo traveller and gambler, Ferius’s ongoing presence is an indication that Kellen has an important role to play in the future of Eldrasia.
Reichis is a squirrel cat – imagine a vicious feline squirrel with skin between its front and back legs (like a flying possum) [click here if you can’t imagine!] . He has a foul temper, acid tongue (he can communicate with Kellen and the very occasional other) and a penchant for eye balls – preferably fresh – but has been known to dig up corpses for eye ball sustenance. Reichis is a no nonsense, straight down the line companion with much wisdom, unfortunately this is often negated by his violent and unforgiving nature.
Award winning author Sebastien De Castell talks Soulbinder #4 in the Spellslinger series,
and a bit about himself and his writing career.
To read, or to listen?
I loved the audio versions. Joe Jameson is a superb performer and successfully presented a full cast with different voices, expressions and accents. Humour, tension and meaningful moments ooze from the script with Jameson’s talents – dry and witty, tense and dangerous, deep and meaningful – he does them all amazingly well. Have a listen to the start of Book 1: Spellsinger and hear Kellen before his life goes seriously pear shaped. Visit Audible to listen to a sample of each title.
The audio versions are highly engaging and de Castell provides some of the print version illustrations on his website – some on the main pages and more if you sign up for updates and bonus content. The art work is excellent and important but not critical to understanding the story lines. If you can access both print and audio together it will add to the reading experience. The individual sections within each book are illustrated with a playing card – with a top and bottom – depicting positive and negative possibilities and connecting with the card sharp skills of Kellen.
It’s a wrap