The Last Enchanter. The Celestine Chronicles Book 2 by Laurisa White Reyes.
In the prologue of this book, we see the old king being poisoned by a trusted advisor. Then, the main story starts with young Marcus, taking care of his grandfather’s goat in a remote mountain village. His grandfather is the enchanter Zyll, and Marcus is also his apprentice. Zyll has a vision of the treachery at court, while Marcus has a vision of Zyll lying bloody and dying. This last vision is especially rare, as it shows that Marcus has the rare talent of seeing visions of the future, not just the past and present as most enchanters do. Clearly, it’s time to head for the capital, where Marcus’s older brother is heir to the throne so recently left vacant. His friend Clovis comes with Marcus (Zyll having travelled ahead) as does a girl named Lael, who’s escaping an abusive father and looking for her mother, and Bryn, a shape-shifting groc who prefers to take the shape of a little boy. Marcus’s mother, Ivanore, is also missing, though she appears to him in visions and seems to be leading him towards finding powerful magical artifacts.
There’s a lot going on in this book. Part of it was confusing to me because I hadn’t read the first book and events from the last book were not summarized here. It’s a challenging balancing act, trying to get readers up to speed, whether they’re starting in the middle or trying to remember the last book. I felt there was some critical information that I didn’t figure out until well into the book that would have been very helpful earlier on, like knowing that Zyll’s annoying bird sidekick, Xerxes, is wooden, and that Marcus’s father Jayson is a cat-person, not just a human oppressed minority. But there are a lot of plot lines going on in this book, too, a quest story with three or four different quests going on simultaneously.
While I found Marcus and Lael generally likeable, nice kids, there were some character things that didn’t quite make sense to me. Marcus first urges for the party to include Bryn the groc and for everyone to treat him fairly – they had gotten to know each other in the previous book. Then Lael comes along, and suddenly Marcus no longer thinks of Bryn as a real person and has to learn to do so from Lael, whose polished and feminine table manners he also admires. While I appreciate having a girl in what was clearly a previously all-boy story, it felt like Marcus was being set up to be improved by a Feminine Touch, Victorian-style. Clovis leaves to go back home partway through the book when Marcus tells him to, even though no one but Marcus is convinced that that’s the right thing to do. That felt very odd, and could be potentially jarring for readers who were fans of Clovis from the first book. And, when they reach Marcus’s brother in the capital, he is remarkably unwilling to listen to them. There are also some very brief discussions of a trade in indentured servants which felt unresolved.
While the characters didn’t quite work for a character-focused reader like myself, and kids will probably be better off starting with the first book in the series, there are still plenty of readers for whom this book would be thrilling. Stories of children who find out that they have hidden powers that they need to use to save the world always have a place. This one, filled with magical creatures, enchanters, and princes in danger, and told in very short, action-filled chapters, is especially good for reluctant boy readers in the upper middle grades.
This book was very kindly sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour, and was nominated for a Cybils award in the middle grade speculative fiction category.