Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: The room is small and dark. Row upon row of jars line the shelves, each one sealed with blood-red wax. The seal’s mark is a twisted circle of briar with gleaming, gold-tipped thorns. And in each jar a flicker of forbidden magic dances… beautiful, but deadly.
Sold to the Crown in the aftermath of the Last Great War, Grace Marchant has never known her parents. Now, she trains as an elite soldier tracking down mageborn – those born with an ancient and long-outlawed magic – and destroying them if they don’t surrender their power to the Crown.
The mageborn who submit are collared, then handed over to the King’s cousin and heir: the elusive Bastien Larelwynn, Lord of Thorns, locked away in his shadowy workshop deep inside the castle. What becomes of them is hard to say – the Lord of Thorns keeps his secrets close.
Grace has always fought the voice inside her that questions whether the law is truly just – but when her closest friend is next on Bastien’s list, Grace’s loyalties are tested to the limit. Confronting Bastien – searching his strangely compelling obsidian-black eyes for answers – Grace is shocked to feel herself begin to change, to show the first signs of the wild magic she so fears.
Only the Lord of Thorns has the power to save her and the rest of the mageborn – if he doesn’t destroy them all first... (Amazon)
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Rating: 3 stars
There's a hint of danger in hyping up a new book by putting it in the same category as other books with a big fan base. I understand why it's done, but you build up so much of it for the reader before they've even begun, that if the book does not match expectations—and often it does not—it's a swift disappointment.
I won't say that Mageborn disappointed me—and that's in part because I refused to let myself believe it would be anything like Sarah J. Maas' stories—but there were moments of misses, and a few hits.
The characters in this story are not fleshed out fully, and there were times when I did not feel like the author had a full grasp on them and their personality. Yes, it is okay, normal, welcomed even for a brooding character like Bastien to display a facade to the outside world out of necessity and yet be someone else—his real self, even—behind closed doors. What's a bit more difficult to believe is that as someone who has had to portray himself as a dangerous and even evil being for years so that he may gain and hold respect, suddenly drops every single barrier because the love interest in the story appears in his life.
Romance is not only welcomed for me in a novel, but it is delightful as a bonus. And that's how it began in Mageborn. I was on board, I was enjoying the tension-filled attraction that Grace and Bastien felt for one another... And then I started to notice that that plot was being sacrificed for the romance. This happened to such a degree, that there were moments when either Grace or Bastien seemed to be trying to move the story along after an action sequence, but the other would interrupt this to either flirt or initiate a sexual encounter.
It is distracting to force a romantic interaction between characters. This is something that should happen organically.
The writing itself was underdeveloped in sections. It failed to describe things too clearly and made me have to go back and re-read certain scenes. And now and again I would come across a run-in sentence that would read clumsily:
“Grace punched the bag again, imagining it was him, imagining it bore his superior, snide look, his too bloody handsome face, that perfect nose which she was breaking, his freakish black eyes which she was turning into actual black eyes.”
Yet, was I entertained despite these setbacks? Absolutely. Was it worth a read? I believe so.
This is a fun book overall.
Yes, it takes some time for the plot to take hold, but once that happens, it's a good time all around. The secondary characters are a nice addition—Ellyn, Daniel, Asher, even the queen. The antagonists are, interestingly, even more expanded than the leads. Celeste... I wish that we would have had more scenes of Celeste, because she is creepy, wonderfully insane, unpredictable. She has the potential to drive this story in the second book with her dark personality, and these types of roles are oftentimes the ones that grow the overall potential of the novel. At least or me.
The mythology of the Hollow King and the reveal at the end that Bastien discovers in himself was enjoyable and shocking. I was not expecting it, and mostly I think that's because I was focused on the story so strongly that I didn't have time to guess what was about to happen. That's great. Mageborn does hold your interest regardless of setbacks, it sucks you right in, and I devoured the words as fast as I could.
There was action, and plenty of it from the opening sequence. The moments devoted to these scenes were exciting and the way that the magic is used—as well as the way that the source of this magic is described—was very nicely done.
Despite room for growth, the first novel in The Hollow King series brings forth a gratifying read for fantasy-lovers.