The island of Aletheia is full of magic, even though there are no wizards anymore. There are magic smiths, and Oscar is the Hand to one: which means he collects and chops the herbs and basically stays out of the way. That is, until the apprentice turns up dead and the magic smiths go missing. That’s when Oscar’s world starts unraveling: everything he thought Aletheia was built on, everything he thought his master was, turn out to be built upon a lie. And it’s up to Oscar and Callie, the healer’s apprentice, to figure out what the truth is and how to set everything right.
One of my favorite things about Anne Ursu is that she is a magnificent, quiet writer. She knows how to evoke a feeling and a place; you can just sense that the forest is dark and magical and calming. It feels almost real. And even though it’s never explicitly said, Ursu makes it obvious through little words and phrases that Oscar has some form of autism. That simple fact upped the tension when it was up to Oscar to become the Hero of this story. How — if he doesn’t know how to interact with people — is he supposed to figure everything out? Enter Callie, a remarkable character. (In fact, all the characters, from the magic smiths to the bullies, to the people in the city who are Indulged and Coddled, are remarkably written.) She is the healer’s apprentice, magicless in a world where magic is everything, and yet she’s smart and plucky and brave, but most of all caring.
This was a lovely, lyrical book, and a real treat for those who pick it up.
Rated: Mild for some intense moments, both physically and psychologically.