You’ve read this story before, maybe dozens of times. Setting: Teenaged girl in backwoods village is overlooked and taken for granted. Secretly gifted in magic (which in this world involves manipulating the Myst), she ventures off to save her feudal world from the big baddies and triumph against all odds. Pursued and thwarted by cruel adversaries, aided by a faithful friend, she is thrown into one dangerous and unlikely scenario after another until reaching her destination only to find… At this point the story begins to follow more-original ideas. The girl, Pomella AnDone from the island of Moth, is chosen to compete against noble-born challengers for the privilege of apprenticing under her island’s High Mystic, much to her surprise and to the absolute amazement of the villagers and nobles who have known her since birth. Pomella is anything but noble, and not even remarkable in her village. The High Mystic is a powerful and wise woman, the premier magic-worker for that region, and its defender. Only one candidate will prevail and Pomella’s decision to compete carries with it the added consequence of banishment from her community, becoming a literal untouchable if she does not win. Pomella struggles against impossible odds and you can probably guess the rest. Or can you?
MYSTIC is not a perfect book. The thing that bothered me most was the sudden lurch from pastoral leisure to intense violence with almost no warning on several occasions. Quite jarring. Characters also endure impossible-to-believe physical trials at which any boy scout would simply headdesk. There is no way the human body could survive certain things that beset her. In addition, many of the made-up fantasy words, and even some of the characters’ names and thinly-veiled swear words, are uncomfortable and/or clumsy. Pomella and Zicon sound like things one would find in a drug store. The magic system is not fully-fleshed and is not original. The main character, though a fierce female (yawn . . . no longer a fresh theme) is somewhat uninteresting and the two antagonists are one-dimensional. You would think by my description that I disliked this book, but actually…
I thoroughly enjoyed Jason Denzel’s debut novel! I felt swept away and charmed. I appreciated the limited cast and the fact that Mr. Denzel held his course in a way that showed skill and forethought, and it improved gradually throughout. As a result, I was able to simply relax and enjoy, and that really filled the bill. The flaws did not really matter in the long run. Inexplicably! There is good ease and flow all the way to the finish, which is terrific.
Caveat: I had the pleasure of meeting Jason at a Wheel of Time book signing a few years ago and came away with warm fuzzies for him and his then-girlfriend. Dragonmount, the number-one online fan community for Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME megalith, was built and maintained by Jason, and I had been a participant on the forums. I naturally claimed dibs on this review, hoping for the best. Maybe my desire for escapist enjoyment that week and my regard for Mr. Denzel colored my opinion, but so be it. We are each of us a sea of impulses and biases, and for the first time in my brief career here at EBR, mine resulted in a forgiving attitude and a much less-critical impression. That is not very “elitist,” but, oh well.
Do I think everyone will like this book as much as I did? I rather doubt it. For some, the negatives will outweigh the strong story-telling, the reliable content, the excellent pacing, and the strength of the secondary characters. Satisfying growth is evidenced by most of the good guys, and the last few chapters improved substantially, especially toward the end. That’s unusual and refreshing. I don’t remember being bored or disgusted or even tempted to eye-roll, except for the need to suspend disbelief as mentioned previously. Maybe I would normally give this sweet book a “love/hate,” but the “like” better describes my reading experience… because when I closed the final page, I was glad for the journey. I look forward to the next effort from this talented new author.
That said, I humbly beseech you, Jason, to be be careful with overly-cute fantasy phrasing and naming and simply tell your story. Just like you eventually did in the closing chapters. They were really good! Like most of your characters did in MYSTIC, I predict you will be growing in exciting and unexpected ways as a writer in the years to come!
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Fantasy cursing
- Violence: Occasional, but bloody
- Sex: Two scenes, brief and interrupted
And don’t miss our Interview with the author Jason Denzel.