Title: First Year (The Black Mage #1)
Author: Rachel E. Carter
Genre: Young Adult Literature, Fantasy
Other: GoodReads, Amazon
“Before the age of seventeen, the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice —pursue a trade or enroll in a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight, or mage…
For fifteen-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a mage and train in Combat, the most prestigious faction of magic.
Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Everyone is rooting for her to fail—first and foremost among them is Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.
Will Ry survive, or will her dream go down in flames?”
Based on the synopsis, this book meets my “guilty pleasure” book requirements: magic and a good hate-to-love romance. First Year seemed like it would be a match. Besides, it’s included with prime reading, so there’s that.
Anyway, I went into this with low standards. I didn’t expect much, and if I had, I probably would have been rather disappointed. But First Year wasn’t an awful book. It wasn’t even really all that bad; it just wasn’t that good, even for a guilty pleasure.
Despite this, there were a few things I liked about the book.
It was engaging. I wanted to keep reading, and lately, there haven’t been many books that have done that for me. But I finished First Year in two nights, so it was doing something right.
Ry is also a strong protagonist. I hate reading books where the female lead is weak or heavily reliant on other people. Ry works hard, she’s brave (albeit a little reckless), and she doesn’t rely on others to help her. Overall, she’s a fairly decent role model.
And the writing? It wasn’t bad. Or at least, it wasn’t noticeably bad. But the thing is, it wasn’t noticeably good either. Nothing stood out to me.
And then there’s the bad. And honestly, “the bad” is what will keep me from continuing the series.
One of the biggest issues I have with the book is how it addresses rape, and this is definitely something I can’t ignore.
If you plan on reading this book and you don’t want anything spoiled, I suggest you skip over this next paragraph. It’s not a major spoiler, but it may become obvious as you read.
Anyway, one of the characters was raped sometime before the story starts. But instead of really delving into how it impacts someone or the problems surrounding rape and rape culture, the author uses the rape as a plot device. It’s this big mystery in the book that’s supposed to make you question another character’s intentions. And when we find out what happens, it ends up only being used to make another character seem not-so-bad. But what bothers me even more is the impact this has on the victim. This revelation becomes something that’s used to correct the victim’s understanding of what happened to her and in turn becomes something that she’s supposed to feel bad about. And then the rape is forgotten. That’s it. To me, it’s pretty crappy to use rape as a plot device and to turn it around and make it into something that places a degree of guilt onto the victim. Is it saying that the rape was her fault? No. Is it focused on what happened to the victim? No. Instead, the focus is on the impact it had on another man.
Rant over. It’s safe to keep reading.
Besides that biggie, I was also bothered by how utterly unhealthy Ry’s romantic-ish relationship is. The guy treats her like crap and yet we’re supposed to root for him and feel sorry for him? And the justification the author gives for why he treats her the way he does is crappy. Because this is aimed at teenagers, writers need to conscientious of the message they’re sending to their audience. This tells girls that it’s okay if a guy bullies you if he has good intentions (you know, like keeping up his reputation to protect you or to help you grow). Yeah, okay, but no.
But it’s also incredibly obvious and predictable. I didn’t find anything remotely surprising. Nothing. And honestly, it got to the point where it was a little cheesy. And then there’s the ending…It’s corny. But more importantly, it didn’t feel like a realistic ending. It felt cheap.
Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me. Was it terrible? No. It was engaging, it did have a strong female protagonist, and the writing wasn’t particularly horrible. But it is predictable, and more importantly, I can’t overlook how it addresses rape, and I can’t overlook the message it sends to young readers. This isn’t a book I’d recommend you to go and buy. Get it for free on Amazon Prime? Sure. Borrow it from your local library? Okay. Spend $10 or whatever on it? Definitely not.