Review: Mageborn (The Hollow King #1) by Jessica Thorne

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review, and if you’re interested, it is available now.

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I don’t like this cover, I think it’s gorgeous, but irrelevant to the plot and makes me assume it will have a far more fairytale-esque, or YA tone, than it actually does


Mageborn is a fantastic read, and I’m excited to know it is the beginning of a series. The tone in this is similar to Charlie N Holmberg’s Numina series, but more adult; likewise it is a more interpersonal and less politically motivated (but similar) series to NK Jemisin’s outstanding Hundred Thousand Kingdom series. The closest comparison, in my opinion, is Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, although this book moved far faster than that; the Chronicles of Elantra currently being fifteen books long with no sign of ending. As far as a single book goes, Jasmine Silvera’s Death’s Dancer is fairly close.

Mageborn is a great beginning to what promises to be a fast moving, rich urban fantasy series. There are a huge amount of twists, expected and otherwise, that add suspense right up until the last moment of the book. I loved that the stakes grew increasingly higher without ever seeming contrived, and the world was set up to create tension beautifully. Social commentary is at the core of most fantasy and science fiction, and Mageborn is no different.  The world-building and character history was well crafted to allow for natural parallels to be drawn to a variety of real-world topics—most obviously substance abuse, consent, bigotry and classism. For that reason, however, some readers may find Mageborn uncomfortable.

The two main characters in this book (Grace and Bastien) are given a rich background, which brings them to life well and adds a lot of personality to their interactions with each other, and other characters. Grace is not a typical heroine, and I appreciated that she was irritable and bad at communicating at times, rather than being a neverending fount of compassion and emotional intelligence. Bastien and Grace are complex people, with motivations not always clear in the moment even to themselves: in short, they’re believable human beings.

I thought the villains of the piece were also well written, and only wish that some supporting characters (Grace’s fellow guards and Kurt, most noticeably) were fleshed out more. I fully expect this to happen in future novels, however, and look forward to reading them. Kurt in particular allows for a richly detailed underworld like that found in the Serpentwar Saga from Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia Cycle, and that was one of the first series to truly enthrall me. I also feel the need to mention the (much appreciated) casual representation of sexual minorities in this world.

There are a few clunky moments in this book—plot points that have already been discovered being hammered home again, reveals that aren’t as surprising as I assume they should be—but these are minor things in the whole experience of Mageborn. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (if you hadn’t guessed from the comparisons to half a dozen of my favourite high fantasy series), and think many other people will as well. I’d recommend this book (and series) to anyone who enjoyed the series I listed earlier; fans of Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series, Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vines books, or Robin Hobb’s Assassin series will also find plenty to enjoy in Mageborn.

 

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