Iolanthe Seabourne always knew she was skilled at wielding fire as an elemental mage, and while she could also manipulate earth and water, she couldn’t control air. If she could, well, she would truly be a Great elemental mage. And those hardly existed anymore. Even so, her guardian had kept her leading a quiet life and encouraged her not to show off her powers. Then one day desperation makes her try a crazy move — calling down lightning. And when she does, well, her life immediately changes.
At the very moment Iolanthe summons lightning, Prince Titus, the Master of the Domain, is watching out the window of his room in the palace, and he immediately takes action. He’d been told by his seer mother that something extraordinary would happen and he would need to protect the mage who did it. He had prepared all his young life to do what he had to do. His country was under the control of a tyrant in another land, Atlantis, and someday a special mage could be the one to overthrow him. So he finds and protects Iolanthe in the way he’d prepared for: by taking her back to the school in a non-mage kingdom he’d been essentially ordered to attend by the evil Bane. He pretends to be a prince from a small European country at Eton, and so now he is forced to not just bring Iolanthe to Victorian England’s premier school for boys, but to disguise her as a boy (his late mother’s visions had seemed to indicate this great mage was going to be male).
So Iolanthe becomes Archer Fairfax, and Titus tries to keep her (him) safe while training her (him) in more magical skills as quickly as possible. But holding off the terrifying Inquisitor controlled by Atlantis and figuring out a way to actually defeat the nearly all-powerful Bane is going to be a gargantuan task.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The world-building is entertaining, with the history of the lands and the magic that can be used, whether the older elemental magic that’s faded in scope and power in the hands of most people, or the “subtle magic” that requires spells and potions that’s become more common and useful. I liked that there are non-magical and magical lands that can be traversed (by mages who know of all the realms’ existence), and that half or more of the book is set in the non-magical Victorian England. Our two main characters are also fantastic. They are strong and work together well, each helping the other and “rescuing” back and forth. The romantic angle is sweet and satisfyingly a struggle because of various problems. I’m really looking forward to reading the other two books.
Rated: Mild. There’s not much in the way of language, and whatever is used is mild or moderate. The romance just extends to some kissing. There is some violence but it’s not gory or too intense.