Shadowguard (Pharim War Book 1) by Gama Ray Martinez – 3.5 stars
Sponsored by a rich patron, Jez attends the Carceri Academy, where many of the country’s elite go to study. Though his patron forbids him to study it, Jez finds he has an aptitude for battle magic. When a sleeping sickness sweeps the land, Jez begins experiencing strange visions of the creation of the world. He investigates them and discovers a trail of dark magic that indicates his patron may not be as benevolent as he originally believed, and Jez himself may be much older than anyone suspects.
My 10 year old son doesn’t like to read books without pictures. He does, however, enjoy being read to. Always looking for new alternatives to Harry Potter, I picked this up on a recommendation from a friend. It’s an adventure story about a boy with a powerful secret he’s not even aware of and machinations he doesn’t understand until it’s nearly too late.
The basic idea is interesting and compelling, which I won’t explain because spoilers. Jez as a character is genuine, and he struggles with being a part of two worlds at once in many ways, that of rich and poor, powerful and not, child and adult, savant and idiot. His station allows him to mix with the upper crust and he predictably befriends an outcast boy from the lower class instead of his arrogant peers. This friend, Osmund, helps Jez understand his own peculiarities and uncover truths bout the world and the mystery they face.
As a coming of age tale, the path presented to maturity is a harsh one. Jez is forced to leave his father behind, to do study what his patron demands, and to face life-or-death challenges. It has action wedged in around the instructional sequences, and I liked the adult characters of Besis and Balud as dispensers of information, bad news, and guidance.
Where this book falters is in its editing. There are too many typos for me to feel comfortable ignoring them, and several of the action sequences left me confused about what just happened.
Overall, both my son and I enjoyed this book. It gets the 10 year old boy stamp of approval. I recommend this for anyone who likes the first and second Harry Potter books. It has similar charming qualities without the teen-centered issues of the later series.