"Ripples and waves of light danced on the roof of the cave, the churning maelstrom of the glowing pool beneath reflected on the centuries-old rock worn smooth by the passage of time and water. The boy with the sword stopped in the entrance.."
Lately, I've become fascinated with the opening lines authors choose to use in their stories. After all, the cover is like a first glance at someone, the synopsis.. more like the ritual of approach, but those openers.. they're the greeting. They're the first impression and as they say, you only get one. Just as you might meet a new person, a lot can be gleaned from these first words. You get to see how they hold themselves.. are they confident or unsure.. reserved or aggressive.. how do they see the world around them?
From those first words, I bonded with this story and with this author. She was eloquently descriptive, but she didn't use the most complex language she had available just for the sake of the pretention of artistry. That's not to say her words lacked imagination or intelligence. Rather, she seemed to feel with her words. I could believe she had witnessed what she was describing.. and like the male lead, what she saw was stunningly beautiful and not just in the most obvious ways.
'Mageborn (The Hollow King Book 1),' is the story of a cynical, orphaned soldier, Grace Marchant, who is charged with capturing dangerous magic wielders called the mageborn that have often gone rogue and begun harming people. There are others of course, but the magic that is born into them is outlawed, and if they don't volunteer to be enslaved to the crown, soldiers like Grace are sent to retrieve them. After an incident in the field, she becomes caught up with the heir to the throne.. a prince called the Lord of Thorns.. Bastien Larelwynn. A man that the entire city is terrified of, all is not as it seems with him or nearly anyone amongst those connected with the palace.
"She could read the pain, written all over his expression like letters on parchment. It hurt him. It was agony. Like drinking poison and trying to transmute it into something else through sheer force of will alone."
Jessica Thorne, the author, wasted no time breaking my heart. Before the story even really gets rolling, she sunk a character deep into my heart with his pain and left me feeling blindsided, wondering what exactly had just occurred as I stared down at the page questioning everything.
In addition to the descriptive passages, Thorne does an excellent job at managing deep backstories.. both known and unknown to the characters and a relatively creative approach to the magic system which has elemental aspects, but also much more. The mageborn wield many different kinds of abilities and learning new ones as I read was almost as interesting as the plot itself.
There are distinctive class differences at play, between the royals and other well-bred citizens, and the gritty underbelly deeper inside the city, where the soldiers come from. The sense of entitlement and disdain.. regarding those outside the poorer parts of town is palpable. There is a bit of pantheon building here as well, just a glimpse of their gods, which I'm hoping we'll see developed more widely in future releases for the series.
"His eyes flickered open. He didn't even seem to see her, or know where he was. He stared up at her through the light of the pool, helpless and confused. The misery in his voice was a spear in her chest."
The characters are complex. Some of them have had horrible experiences in their earlier years.. and their behaviors often reflect that. They hide things, not just from each other, but from us.. even from themselves at times. The deceit is heavily layered, especially in the court, but it doesn't stop there either. They're all richly formed, for better or worse. Even the villains in this story are great.
That being said, Grace is a little to quick to flip back and forth on what she should know sometimes. Not a writing flaw, more of an individual character flaw. I couldn't decide if I wanted to cheer her.. or shake her until she saw reason.. but she's inherently good and means to do what's right. Her love interest is a beauty though.. inside and out.. a lovely character I spent the entire novel just wanting to protect. The absolute horrors wrought upon him and through him opened up a hole in my chest as I read. At times he made me laugh because he could be such a brat, but I adored him all the same. Perhaps even more due to those parts of his personality. In fact, there's a comment about an omelette that made me laugh so much, I nearly had to explain myself to the other people in my house.
"'Grace,' he whispered. 'I know. You're fine. Where does it hurt?' He laughed, a short and bitter laugh. He couldn't help himself. 'Everywhere?'"
My only complaints are small ones. Periodically, more so toward the end, the author seemed to rely on repetition to draw out a dramatic scene. Something literally might be said in one paragraph.. and restated in the very next.. and it felt unnecessary. The pacing of the novel is great and those scenes would have been just fine without repeating anything. And occasionally, feelings flipped entirely too fast. 'Never' is forgotten very quickly.
Really though, that's the worst thing I can say about this book and it's so insignificant. So minor, it's barely worth mentioning. I genuinely loved this story, the characters, the world, the way it's written.. everything about it.. and would recommend it to anyone looking for a great new fantasy series that is only just beginning..