Rating: 3 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Fifteen-year-old Léonidas has always been an outcast. Maybe it’s the white hair, white skin, and purple eyes; maybe it’s because he and his grandparents live on the edge of the forest, growing what crops they can and harvesting mushrooms, berries, and herbs. It’s a quiet life, filled with privation and loneliness, but Leon finds a way to be happy. He does his chores without complaint, loves his grandparents, and only occasionally misses his parents, who died when he was very young.

One afternoon, while walking in the woods, Léonidas sees a group of village boys preparing to kill a white stag. He calls out, racing towards the animal with arms waving, trying to make it run, even though he knows it’s too late. A desperate prayer, a quiet wish that he could switch places with the stag is all he has time for before the world goes away and he ends up shot by an arrow … only to wake up three days later and be told that he, Léonidas Nightshade, a nobody from nowhere, is not only magic, he’s a prince. A fae prince, who is now expected to enter the Amethyst School for Spellcasters.

In school, Léonidas makes friends, falls in love, and discovers a prophecy that could either save the world or doom it … and it all centers on him.

This is the first book in a new series about a magical school, a mystic prophecy, and a forgotten fae prince. Aimed at a younger audience, it includes characters who are gender queer, lesbian, and gay, as well as internalized homophobia, bullying, smoking, panic attacks, and a suicide attempt. There are also moments of gore and torture as the big bad does horrible things to people, which are described in some detail. As such, the book may not be for younger or sensitive readers.

Léonidas is a wide-eyed ingénue, all giant eyes, pale skin, and a naive good nature. He is fifteen, whisked away from anything and everything familiar, and yet he’s quick to make friends, takes to lessons easily, and tries very hard to just get along. He’s not interested in standing out — the antlers on his head do that for him — or standing up for himself. In fact, he has to be pushed, hard, before he fights back the first time, and after that he just ducks his head and hunches his shoulders and tries to ignore his bully. Léonidas is so innocent he has no idea what a wet dream is, what sex is, or any idea that two men can feel for one another. While this may seem out of place in some books, Léonidas lives in the 1950s and has never been to school. All his life he’s lived only with his grandparents for company and education.

Atticus Valor, vaewolf prince (a vampire wolf shifter) is an older boy, darkly handsome and often seen scowling at Léonidas when he isn’t ignoring him. This is because Atticus knows that Léonidas, the shy snow prince of a student, is his fated mate, given to him by the god Cernunnos. Atticus is fighting against this, torn between teenage hormones and the knowledge that two men … is wrong. When he confronts his god about it, Cernunnos shrugs. After all, he has nothing wrong with two men, two women, or even a dozen people of any and all genders coming together. Atticus isn’t a follower of the Christian god, so why is he hung up on it? Atticus’s god tells him quite plainly to get over himself and get on with it, because love is more important, especially with this prophecy flying around.

The book has a handful of illustrations of some of the main characters, which helps break up the chapters. However, the writing has a generous scattering of  grammatical issues, such as places where commas are missing, and others where they were put instead of periods or semi colons, along with the occasional wrong your or their. The characters have very shallow personalities that feel based more on the trope they’re filling than anything else, but as this is the first book in a series — with its focus primarily on set up and introductions to the people and the world — that can be somewhat forgiven.

I do wish the author provided more of a point of view in this book. Smoking magical herbs is framed as something cool, done by Atticus and only marginally hidden from teachers who know it’s happening, but don’t care so long as they don’t see it. Not one adult seems to care that Léonidas is being bullied, mocked with sexual insults, shoved, and harassed, even when it’s done right in front of the teachers. Even a suicide attempt is brushed aside with a tepid “don’t do that again because it makes us sad,” without ever dealing with the cause of his desire to hurt himself. Given this book is aimed at a slightly younger audience, the lack of any moral opinion — smoking is bad, bullying is bad, suicide is serious — makes it feel as though these scenes were included in this book for no real reason.

Personally, this book felt hollow and left me rather indifferent. I didn’t feel like it had anything to say. Still, it is the first book in a series, and maybe a second or third book will improve in messaging and writing. I’ll keep an eye on the series, but I’m not sure I recommend this particular book.