Rated Reads

First Year (The Black Mage, book 1)

by Rachel E. Carter

Rated: Mild

Before they turn 17 the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice — follow tradition or pursue a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight or mage.

For 15-year-old Ryiah the choice has always been easy: become a warrior and leave the boring confines of her lowborn life behind. Set to enroll in the School of Knighthood on the eve of her next birthday, she finds her plans suddenly shifting when her twin brother discovers powers. Hoping hers will soon follow, she enrolls with Alex at the Academy instead — the realm’s most notorious war school for those with magic.

Yet when she arrives Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Every “first-year” is given a trial year to prove his or her worth — and no amount of hard work and drive will guarantee a spot. It seems everyone is rooting for her to fail — and first and foremost among them is Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.

When an accidental encounter leads Ryiah and Darren to an unlikely friendship, she is convinced nothing good will come of it. But the lines become blurred when she begins to improve — and soon she is a key competitor for the faction of Combat. Still, nothing is ever as it seems — and when the world comes crashing down around her, Ry is forced to place faith in the one thing she can believe in: herself. Will it be enough?

I have this weird thing for characters who just can’t seem to get anything right. I love a protagonist who fails time and time again but wipes the dirt off and gets back at it. Maybe I can relate, or maybe I feel the world needs more people like this. Either way, Riyah and I got along great. She’s resilient, headstrong and a loyal friend. Best of all, she’s not just some dumb girl. She knows what she wants and doesn’t let anything distract her from her dream. Even with odds stacked against her, you can’t help but believe she just might get her cloak after all.

She and her twin brother, Alex, head off to a magic boot camp disguised as a school for aspiring mages. Seriously, this stuff is like Navy Seal training with a bit of magic. The only problem is that Ryiah hasn’t actually developed her magic yet! The story draws you right in with conflict and the dangerous journey they navigate just to get to the school. The teachers/masters seem to be working against students as they weed the lot down to 15 apprentices for the Restoration, Alchemy and Combat factions. The world is one fantasy lovers can easily fall into. I was intrigued by the military-like structure in a castle setting. I wondered if I could keep up with the crammed schedule each student kept on a daily basis. Carter gives us a great look at how the school runs and the rigorous training its students endure.

The story’s main characters are very well fleshed out. However, I wish a little more detail had gone into some of the side characters. Towards the end, some classmates come into play who didn’t have enough time in the story for me to remember them when their big moment came up. Ruth, previously mentioned once or twice, shows up and we are led to believe she and Ryiah are close friends. Ryiah claims she’s known all along that a boy has a crush on her, yet I could barely remember him in any other scene. I had missed something. There just wasn’t enough exchange between the boy and Ryiah to make it believable. These characters felt like an afterthought and their page time was rushed. A few scenes, along with the ending, were a little predictable (I mean, the second book is called Apprentice, for goodness’ sake) but were exciting nonetheless.

Except for a few minor details, I really enjoyed this book. There is a healthy balance between romance and adventure that kept me turning pages. Rachel E. Carter definitely has a knack for storytelling and a flowing narrative. Don’t be surprised if you see me post a review of The Black Mage: Apprentice and the third book, which the author is currently working tirelessly on.

Rated: Mild, for a bit of competitive sorcery violence, hazing and one kissing scene. 

— Reviewed by Constance Roberts

Constance Roberts, a happy wife and mother, is the author of "Onyx Moon." She also reviews books for her blog, Diff Jones Press.

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First Year Cover
  • First Year (The Black Mage, book 1)
  • by Rachel E. Carter
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: