Anders is the son of a provincial diplomat. Descendant of warrior magicians, he has spent his childhood learning some skill with a stick, a little magic, vast amounts of table manners, and entirely too much of the contents of tedious (and potentially fabricated) histories. On his sixteenth birthday he finally graduates to learning with a sword; but instead of the transition into adulthood he expects this to mark, his parents and tutor treat him as if little has changed. Locked in his classroom while his parents spend the evening out, his decision to pursue magic not homework tears his world apart.
Filled with worries about pimples, anger at being treated like a child, and petty rebellion, the opening of this book makes it clear this book is young adult rather than fantasy with a young protagonist; and the rest of the novel continues in a similar style.
However, this fits the plot: Anders is pulled from sheltered naïvety into a war between good and evil, so should swing between feelings of great worth and fixation on what to those with life experience appear the most minor of things.
The only area where the style might trouble some readers is in development of Anders’ role as champion for good. Where the ambivalence and obsessions of teenage life are given full rein, his development as a magician, swordsman, and trusted ally of mysterious civilisations is both smoother and faster. As such readers who expect their character arcs to be gritty, might feel a lack of realism.
The world-building is a similar mix of epic possibility and the selfishness of youth. Jacobs has created a world where there are three (or potentially more) types of human magic, and several non-human races; but only mentions most of it when it applies specifically to Anders’ concerns of the moment. Depending on the reader’s preference for fantasy metaphysics this will either be a frustrating absence of depth or a realistic portrayal of human response to events.
The remaining characters, viewed entirely through Anders’ plausibly immature viewpoint, display the same mixture of obsession and oddity making them an entirely fitting supporting cast to Anders’ alternation between running to and from his alleged destiny.
Ultimately, this book succeeds or fails on the idea of a boy being a great magician warrior prophesied to face epic evil. Readers who accept the trope will see the nuances of how Anders deals with it; those who find prophecy lacking in drama, might feel events are a little too convenient in places.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking an enjoyable take on the classic callow saviour prepares to face evil trope.