Jasiel is invisible. It takes more skill than you’d think, as the son of the exiled Prince and Princess who turned their back on their people, their magic, and their gods. Wherever Jasiel goes, he’s sneered at, mocked, and bullied; students ignore him, the staff look down on him, and there is no one he can trust. Even Iliana, the daughter of his Warden — the man now responsible for Jasiel’s life and well-being — must be avoided. Because Jasiel has a plan.
When he graduates from this horrible academy with mediocre grades and no distinctions of any kind, Jasiel will be able to vanish, to escape, to find his parents and his sister, and all his pain and suffering will be wiped away. That plan is ruined when, visiting his Warden’s home with Iliana for a holiday, Jasiel and Iliana are called forth to sacrifice the Barren girl in a celebration of magic and life. Rather than allow Iliana, already shaken from the coarse and cruel behavior of her betrothed, to suffer the guilt of taking a human life, Jasiel performs the ritual and gains the attention of the Lord Ascendant, the man who killed his grandparents, exiled his parents, and took over the kingdom.
The man who is Jasiel’s destiny.
On Jasiel’s arm, hidden beneath an enchanted band and strong magic, is a mark, a blessing from the Gods that connects his fate and his life with the person who will best match him, who will be his love and his gift. To marry your fated one is considered a blessing, but for Jasiel, it’s nothing but a curse. Now, no longer hidden by his invisibility, Jasiel must find a way to keep himself protected from a man who wants not just to use him, but to change him. To open his eyes to the truth of his parents, of magic, and Jasiel’s own lost childhood.
The Hidden Prince is the first book in the Ascension series and has content that may not be for some readers. The magic of this world requires sacrifice — with on-page killing of animals and humans — as well as blood magic. The book contains gore, threats and hints at sexual assault of female side characters, and corporal punishment. There are also two scenes involving terrorist attacks, one at a movie theater and another at a school, with the deaths of several children. However, it’s not overly graphic or lurid and not meant for titillation. I found it to be well thought-out and put together but, again, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.
The story is told from Jasiel’s point of view, and the magic of this world is never explained. After all, why would it be when he doesn’t need to explain breathing or eating or walking down a hallway? He uses magic as a part of his daily life, and enough is shown — and just enough talked about as Jasiel searches for new magics, discusses theory, or tries a new use of a skill — to hint at a very well developed magic system. The world is a mix of magic and mundane, with pamphlets, orbs (televisions) that record plays and music events for people to watch later, swords, and flying gryphon coaches. There’s not much of an overall feel to it, for me, beyond magic!, but here, it works given the overall nature of the story.
And that nature is Jasiel discovering who he is beneath what he’s been told. For reasons he’s never bothered to question, Jasiel has no real memories of his childhood. He knows he’s the son of the Prince and Princess, because no one lets him forget it. He knows he’s the “Lost Prince,” because people tell him so, but his memories really start around the age of 7-8 when he was given to his Warden, and then sent almost immediately to school. He doesn’t remember his parents’ faces, though he’s seen them in pictures; he doesn’t know about the religion they turned to — one that called on them to repudiate magic — or the priestess who guided them, though he’s read books about it and has a vague memory of a woman hurting him. When he’s pushed, again and again, with the realization that something happened to him in those early years, Jasiel turns away from it. All he wants is his parents. To be with people who love him, who don’t hate him or scorn him or want to use him, the way the Lord Ascendant does. The Lord Ascendant wants him to give speeches, where he praises the man who conquered and now rules his home; the Lord Ascendant wants him educated on policy, trained in battle magic, made a useful pawn, and Jasiel hates him for it. Hates the man the gods have given him to, hates the man when he shows him kindness, hates when he makes him work, hates that … he doesn’t quite hate the man.
The Lord Ascendant, at age 20, was a powerful magic user who took the reins of a kingdom suffering from droughts and plagues. The land was dying and so were the people. More and more children were being born with no magic, heralded as the next evolution, as chosen and wondrous and blessed. The Lord Ascendant, however, chose the side of magic — and human sacrifice — and exiled the Barren when he didn’t kill them in rituals to bring magic back to the world. He is everything Jasiel’s parents hated, everything they fought against, and yet … and yet. He’s also a competent leader, respected and beloved. He ended the drought, restored the rivers, and stilled the melting of the earth.
And you won’t learn his name until the end of the book, which is interesting. It keeps him always at arm’s length, much as Jasiel keeps the man at arm’s length. It adds to the otherness, to the power dynamic of jailer and prisoner; this, along with the age difference (Jasiel’s 22 to the Ascendant’s 35), the politics, and the nature of their situation — fallen prince and current ruler — shapes so much of their interactions. Jasiel doesn’t want to see him as a person, until he does.
As well done as I found Jasiel and the Lord Ascendant’s relationship, and the doling out of plot, there are still some issues I had with this book. It’s a matter of personal taste, but the use of “younger male” in reference to Jaziel (or the use of male and female in general when talking about named characters) or the leader in reference to the Lord Ascendant felt odd and out of place. That and calling a random guard the Imperial —handing the weapon back to the Imperial— as in Imperial Guard, just didn’t work for me. It came off stilted, as if it didn’t quite flow. There is also a lot of repetition, especially in the first two thirds of the book, going over the same ground again and again and again. It’s not so much Jasiel thinking on something or worrying at something that bothers him as much as it is the same information being repeated and retold over and over, sometimes rephrased, sometimes not, and it felt more than a little tiring, slowing the pace and making any tension fall flat. For so much of the book, the mark is mentioned— and not just mentioned, but often explained again, along with descriptions. Adding to this are some stilted, awkward sentences, such as: “After all, you will have to provide for your newly bonded partner, after all.” Or “He glanced down at his gloved hand, pulling the material to the side to reveal his pale hand.” As this is a debut novel and the first book in a projected trilogy, I have hopes that some of this will be smoothed out in future books.
Honestly, the plot is engaging and the breadcrumbs are handed out right when they need to be — neither too much information, nor information Jasiel wouldn’t know. The magic is interesting and the reveals are well done. But, the writing is not this book’s strong suit. If you’re interested in a slightly darker fantasy, but not so dark as to be grimdark, with complex relationships, slow burn, and a wounded protagonist, this book might work for you. I will say, I’m looking forward to the second book!