Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Audiobook Review: First Year by Rachel E. Carter

Series:     Black Mage #1
Pub. Date:Oct. 27, 2016
Publisher:Clean Reads
Narrator:Melissa Moran
Length:8 hrs 9 min
Source:Audiobook Boom

Rachel & Jen Bambi
Full disclosure - I have a girl crush on Rachel E. Carter. She is very cool people and I hung out with her quite a bit at the RT Convention this year. So even though I don't read a lot of Y/A, or "clean reads" for that matter... I knew that I had to check out what Rachel is writing (and I'm glad I did)! I only wish it didn't take me so long, but the blog has allowed me little time for personal reading this year (something I hope to rectify in 2017). I'm rambling... on to the review!

First Year is the story of a young girl, a commoner, who is embarking on a journey of magic and self-discovery at the Academy, a school for mages. In this fantastical world of Jerar, its not enough to be born with the ability to use magic, one must also learn how to cast and control this special ability. And it's hard, y'all! Students at the Academy have to learn meditation, casting, combat and a host of other magic-related tasks. The school actually reminded me of my college days, when my brain got a workout all day long, which was followed by hours of strenuous softball practice, only to have to spend hours at the library late into the night to get all my assignments and reading done. So even though Ryiah is more than half my age (sigh 👵), I could totally relate to her. She wasn't the best magic user at the Academy, but she dang sure worked the hardest. I was impressed by Ryiah's work ethic and determination, and I think her ambition and refusal to give up sets a good example for younger Y/A readers. (Geez, I am sounding like an old fogey... the hazards of me reading Y/A I'm sure!) So I give two thumbs up to this heroine who shows great potential but knows that the only way to reach her goal is through hard work and perseverance. 

Ryiah has somewhat of a love-hate relationship with another first year, Prince Darrin, the second son of the royal family. Darrin has lots of layers, but in this story we are still scratching the surface of the crispy outer layer that no one eats. Most of the time I thought he was a stuck-up jerk, or cowardly for falling in line with the mob mentality or bystander effect. However there were a few glimpses into Darrin's morality, so I think his character could be redeemed easily in future installments of the series. I am looking forward to seeing how Rachel has developed his character as the series progressed, and I would love to see some passages from his POV.

The story had a cast of great secondary character. I loved Ryiah's twin brother, Alex, whose fun and flirty attitude added some levity to the plot. I also really liked Ella, who was one of Ryiah's few friends at the Academy. I liked that she was not a commoner, but she didn't treat people differently based on their class and social standing. Then there was the "cool crowd" which consisted of Darrin and his bootlickers, including "that girl" Priscilla. You know that girl... the stuck-up snob that you would love to trip right into a bit ol' mud puddle. Priscilla treated Ryiah with contempt at every turn... both out of jealousy and due to her own self-aggrandizing. She made a great antagonist because there wasn't one thing to like about her character, and we probably all had encounter with a girl/woman like her at some point in our lives.

So this first installment follows the students during their first year at the Academy, which seems to be setting us up for what is to come after the students have become mages. Jerar doesn't seem to be a safe place to live, its one of those magical medieval settings in my mind. The danger is showcased in the beginning as Ryiah and Alex are accosted during their initial travel to the school... and those events, particularly as they applied to Ryiah, helped me establish an emotional connection with her character. Throughout the book we see challenges like this that Ryiah must overcome, learn from, and grow as a result. 

While I enjoyed this story, I wasn't crazy about the narrator. Sometimes her tenor was overly simple and made the characters/story seem more juvenile. There was also an issue with consistency - she sometimes dropped the accent that she gave to certain characters, and other times she used an almost Boston accent, which threw me out of the story. So I think my future foray into this series will have me reading instead of listening. But overall, the story kept me entertained and there wasn't a problem with my attention wandering. I recommend this series to fans of Harry Potter and similar Y/A fantasy.

I purchased this book in print and ebook formats, but I received a review copy of the audiobook through Audiobook Boom. 

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