Gravedigger Volke Savan wants nothing more than to be like his hero, the legendary magical swashbuckler, Gregory Ruma. First he needs to become an arcanist, someone capable of wielding magic, which requires bonding with a mythical creature. And he’ll take anything—a pegasus, a griffin, a ravenous hydra—maybe even a leviathan, like Ruma. So when Volke stumbles across a knightmare, a creature made of shadow and terror, he has no reservations. But the knightmare knows a terrible secret: Ruma is a murderer out to spread corrupted magic throughout their island nation. He’s already killed a population of phoenixes and he intends to kill even more. In order to protect his home, his adopted sister, and the girl he admires from afar, Volke will need to confront his hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma. A fast-paced fantasy with magical creatures for those who enjoy the Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera series) by Jim Butcher, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
What is Knightmare Arcanist about?
Knightmare Arcanist first and foremost sets up a magical world and the characters that will carry on through the rest of the Frith Chronicles. It does this very well, immersing the readers in first the island of Ruma where our protagonist, Volke, lives and then the mainland he visits later. Volke, as the main character, receives exclusive screen time and manages to show the story as it unfolds. Volke has a checkered past that his close-minded island peers have always judged him for–namely that his parents were both criminals. Raised by the only person in town willing to care for him, William the Gravekeeper, Volke grows up determined to prove that he has it what it takes to be a hero and defy his town’s expectations. The best way to do this, he thinks, is to become an arcanist–a magic wielder who bonds with a mystical creature in order to gain magic powers. As soon as Volke reaches fifteen, adulthood in his world, he begins his journey to become an arcanist.
Genre: YA Fantasy
This books is hard and fast YA fantasy. It features two age ranges–fifteen year olds and potentially centuries old adults–and puts the fifteen year olds forward as adults themselves due to their world’s coming of age period. Honestly, this book reminds me of the time when everybody on the Internet seemed to have the same fandoms and wanted all of them to crossover. Remember those fandom quizzes that would produce a card telling you who you’d be in every magical world (like an elf in LOTR, Dauntless in Divergent, and what district from The Hunger Games you were from all in one)? Yeah this story would 100% have been featured on those as well. I’m not kidding, the first thing I did when I finished this book was search for “what eldrin would you bond with” quizzes because I had that familiar desire to know.
Tropes: Revenge! Murder plots! Pirates!!
This book is absolutely a set up to a greater series set in a larger world than we are seen, and as a result a lot of tropes are introduced. Pirates, for example, are heavily featured in a lot of backstory and exposition, but are only seen on screen once. This absolutely implies that there will be further pirate plot points in the rest of the series, same as the idea of revenge. Luthair’s revenge takes center stage in this novel, but Illia’s revenge has more setup than resolution. Volke, too, has a backstory set up that has revenge potential.
Plot: Nothing ever goes Volke’s way…
Poor Volke can barely catch a break before things are turning against him again. His is a classic tale of bad luck, struggling, and working hard to get a fraction of what his peers receive. Luckily, Volke actually does demonstrate that he’s put in the work to rise above his circumstances, he doesn’t just whine about how everything is unfair and then do nothing to change it.
What can I say other than I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it for a lot of reasons that basically boil down to this: Knightmare Arcanist is a well written presentation of all the hooks that made my favorite books and series from my preteen years popular with bookish kids. This book seems almost like it was started during that time, but the author took longer to complete in order to learn from the mistakes of the massively popular but often poorly written and rushed through books of the 2000’s and early 2010’s. Volke as a protagonist has all those tropes of tragic backstory, isolation from his community, and a burning desire to prove himself but is at the same time an interesting, nuanced character. The author manages to show us things that are usually told, such as Volke’s kindness and ability to think through his problems and his reactions before doing anything rash. There’s also a lot of well done set up in this book that do hook you into wanting to read the next book.
I did find the occasional thing predictable or confusing. Notably, the identity of Luthair’s nemesis was one I saw coming from a mile away but at the same time the climax of the book ended in a way that surprised me. I thought that for sure the main antagonist of this book was one who would persist through the rest of the series, looming as a figure that Volke and his friends would need to train to defeat. Instead, we’re left with a somewhat stand alone ending to the story. I felt surprised in a good way, though, that made me curious what narrative choices will be made in the rest of the series.
This was a five star book for me, so I really don’t have anything concrete to say here. I think there were things touched on in the book that could have used more time–a longer page count or a longer timeline of events–but I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing because a lot of what I think hinges on how the rest of the series handles these same things. If they’re repeatedly glossed over, then it’s a series wide problem. If they get the attention they deserve later, then that was likely already part of the plan for the author.
I enjoyed this book a lot, and definitely more than I thought I would. I know that if I’d read this book at thirteen or fourteen years old, I would have been a rabid fan of the series. I’m talking fanfiction writing, going through the tags on all the sites, you name it. This fantasy world is incredibly immersive, and I love the magical creatures that were and weren’t introduced. Creatures that need a bit more explaining were given screentime, while creatures that are pretty self explanatory were mentioned to create the expansion of the world without unnecessary descriptions that would have eaten into the time given to the important stuff. The story itself is pretty mild, which works well in a set up for the rest of the series. We were given the important meat of things: our protagonist has some motivations and ambitions, as well as an unresolved tragic backstory. His closest childhood friend also has an unresolved tragic backstory that will no doubt come into play again. We have characters that are starting their journeys but nowhere near finishing them, and we are now emotional invested in the world and these characters. This is just a home run of a fantasy novel, and I am absolutely going to binge the rest of the series as I get my hands on them.