A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
What's the story?
In the first of two parallel stories, Sadima survives a traumatic birth that kills her mother, and is caused in part by a phony magician who robs them. Growing up with her older brother and their taciturn, angry father, she discovers that she can communicate with animals, a fact that she dare not reveal to her magician-hating father. When he dies, she heads to the city, where two men are trying to resurrect the secrets of magic that have been lost.
In the second story, many years later, Hahp is enrolled, against his will, in an Academy for Wizards where the penalty for failing to learn is death, and few survive. Though unwilling, Hahp has a talent for magic, a talent he hopes one day to use to destroy the school, and his father.
Is it any good?
This is not your typical fantasy -- in fact, it may be unlike anything you have ever read. It's a very dark vision of a world where magic is just beginning to be resurrected after being suppressed and nearly lost for many years. The author eschews nearly all the usual trappings of the genre. There are no battles of good against evil -- actually, there's precious little of either commodity to be found, and no battles at all. In fact, there's very little action of any kind -- just grinding cruelty and joyless acquisition of knowledge and skills. Even the use of magic is minimal. Yet the book is utterly engrossing.
The resurrection process is not fun for anyone. In the Sadima story, it involves living in secret and enduring poverty, fear, and Somiss' borderline insanity to find clues hidden in old nonsense songs. In Hahp's story, it's literally do or die -- figure out the magic yourself, or die trying. No cute Potions lessons with grumpy teachers, just raw survival. The ending is less a cliffhanger than just a stop in the middle of the story. By that time, most readers will be so involved that they will be clamoring for the next installment in this grimly cerebral, National Book Award-nominated new series.