The short and curlies of the plot are: Gair goes from being on trial for witchcraft, to being exiled and then attends ‘magic school’, where is he is one of the most powerful students ever and assists in defending the school from a terrible, demonic assault.
While I don’t mind a good ‘classic’ plot if told well, a few things nagged me.
Gair gets branded: “He will never be welcome in a place of worship again once he wears a witchmark. Never be able to wed, never to have his children blessed and taken into the faith. It will go with him to his grave, along with the hatred and suspicion of his neighbours…” But the brand is on his hand, which can easily be disguised, rather than his face, which I thought more inline with his witch-hating church. Also, why have a brand if the policy is to burn witches at the stake?
Some interesting support characters with disabilities, such as Darin (the diabetic, magic-school buddy) or Aysha (Gair’s crippled, shapechanging teacher) fail to last the book, which was a shame as they made Gair more interesting via his relationships with them. Tanith, an elven healer, is introduced in a style like she was the ‘real’ love interest of the story; which I disliked as I was enjoying the pairing between Aysha and Gair.
Also, Savin, the villain, is described early on in the book as a “…a liar, gambler and slippery as eels in oil, but I see no reason for him to try to harm us” is later revealed as a vile, demon-summoning murderer in the book’s finale, after mind-raping Gair to find some hidden secret. However, I thought this latter portrayal was out of odds with his build-up, and certainly would have preferred a roguish, gambler type as the main villain rather than Damien from the Omen. (Savin was manipulating the mind of his mother and nurse when he was a baby, etc – he was presented as ‘born evil’ – but how much ethical development did these people reasonably expect a baby to have?) I wouldn’t mind a ‘turnaround’ POV from him later in the series, if that’s what Cooper is interested in exploring.
There were also some rather dull plot lines involving a church election, and a ranger-magician finding out some gates were closing. I couldn’t see why they needed to be POV characters.
Things I liked about the book? Well, it read quickly and well. The support characters were fun when they were involved in Gair’s life. I quite enjoyed the shape changing scenes with Gair and his teacher. The magic school was fun, if somewhat generic, but it entertained me. Gair is rather nice, but somewhat whitebread protagonist. I might try the next book in the series and hope that it contains more of the things I liked about this one than less.