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Review: Vale: The Wizard's Ward by Jules McAleese

I was given a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for a review. I am reviewing this book honestly and willingly.


Release date: 30 April 2022

Rating: 4.5/5

Synopsis:


Shadow and Bone meets Graceling in your newest high fantasy obsession.


In the world of Vale, the King of the Elves lives in fear of an ancient prophecy. 'Only a gray blood can kill the king,' or so it foretells.


But nobody in the land of Vale has gray blood: not the elves who rule the land, the mortals who inhabit the villages, the mer who rule the sea, or the witches who are engaged in a bloody and costly war with the elves. No one except Francis, and her life depends on keeping this secret.


When Billington, the King's Wizard, brought under his protection a newborn baby, an infant hunted by the king's Sleuths, his decision put both of their lives in jeopardy.


Fifteen years later and now the wizard's ward, Francis is shaken as her protector disappears from the castle overnight, and she must enlist the help of her first love, a battle-ridden soldier named X, as she embarks on a quest of survival and self-discovery.


But outside the safety of the castle's walls, a war is raging and Francis must endure betrayal and face a myriad of dangers plaguing the land of Vale as she seeks to find the only family that she has ever known. As she encounters shapeshifting bounty hunters, marauding pirates, and dragons that dwell in the witch's mountains, can Francis uncover the true power of her gray blood? Or is the King's prophecy just a thing of legend?

 

Review


“Breath of mer and sight of witch, mind of elf and heart of man, nothing else will break Mort’s skin, only gray blood can.”


If you love indie books (I lerve indies) and love wild romps through fantasy worlds with great characters and mildly complex plot lines, Jules McAleese’s The Wizard’s Ward is a book for you. It’s an upper YA with spirit, witches, wizards, spycraft, romance, pirates, dragons, and more! It was such a struggle for me reading—I could not decide whether I should barrel through the whole thing in one sitting or savor it slowly and take my time so I wasn’t finished and didn’t have a book hangover. I managed a fine balance of the two, and now I sit down to write a review with more struggle because there are so many things that I loved about this book and most I can’t mention because they’re spoilers! Alas, I shall have to settle pointing out generalities, though with no small amount of enthusiasm.


The very first thing I noticed about this book was the sophistication of the prose. For a YA novel, the writing takes for granted that the readers will be more intelligent than writing usual is for such a novel. It is varied, not at all repetitive with the character feelings and reactions, and shows a depth of emotion that evokes strong empathy. I deeply appreciate this, as the reading level for literature aimed at young adults has fallen in the last couple of decades. (Once a book written like The Hobbit was considered a children’s book for upper elementary schoolers, about 8 yrs. and up; now, it is recommended for high school readers—sometimes middle graders—on reading lists.) I was also highly impressed at the maturation Francis shows in her dealings with others, even those who severely mistreat her, as she does not result to the same pettiness and refuses to be brought low by reacting in a similar manner. At its heart, The Wizard’s Ward is a Bildungsroman, showing some very uplifting aspects of the process of growing up while giving readers a darker side to the realities of having no adults to shelter young people as they grow.


Francis, the main character, is the ward of Billington, the very powerful royal wizard for the King Mortimer of the Elves, and is in hiding with him because of her lineage, which happens to cause her blood to be gray, a rare trait reserved for a child of prophecy fated to bring down the evil ruler of the elf kingdom. Our heroine is only 15 in the book, quite young, but she grows up very quickly along the way after she must escape the castle and start a quest to search for her adoptive father when he disappears from without a word—or a trace. Her guide is X, a loner in the royal elf court and son of the high commander of the military for the kingdom. His story is heartbreaking, and even more so as the book goes along, when an interaction with Francis causes a major rift and seals his fate with the kingdom and Francis.


Character interaction and dialogue is key for any good book; this book has plenty of both. After escaping the castle, Francis encounters a group of exiles who take her in and help her search for Billington. They’re a quirky bunch, all products of barbarous treatment at the hands of the Elf Kingdom, which they were fortunate to escape. One of the great strengths of McAleese’s debut stems solely from Francis’ attachment to this group of ruffians. As Francis has grown up isolated and has no meaningful interaction with others her age, making her quite a lonely person, this group of warriors and goof-offs adds a wonderful color to the narrative and endears the story to readers.


If I have to have a drawback for the book, I would have to highlight only a couple of things, which weren’t too bothersome, but I would like to see the magic system more fleshed out and detailed. As of now, the spells are cast as rhymes and blood magic works for Francis inexplicably. I’m interested to see this in more detail in the future installments, which I will be reading. This is also the second book now this year I’ve had the pleasure to read by an indie author which just took my heart and tore it to pieces. Rotten authors hurting me so bad.


When’s the next one coming out, please?


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