The Web of Arcana #1
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Series
A young magic user who wants desperately to live. A jaded recluse who has forgotten what living means. They’re each other’s only chance.
Toby’s wild magic is killing him. The mage guilds have given up on him, and it’s only a matter of time before he dies in a spectacular, catastrophic bang. His only hope is an exiled wizard who lives in seclusion—and is rumored to have lost his mind.
The years alone on his hilltop estate have not been good for Darius Valstad. After the magical accident that disfigured him and nearly drowned Pittsburgh, he drifts through his days, a wraith trapped in memories and depression. Until a stricken young man collapses on his driveway, one who claims Darius is his last chance. For the first time in fifteen years, Darius must make a choice—leave this wild mage to his fate or take him in and try to teach him, which may kill them both. The old Darius, brash and commanding, wouldn’t have hesitated. Darius the exile isn’t sure he can find the energy to try.
I loved the world building in this story, with its setting of our world, complete with recogisable pop culture references, except with its extra fantasy layer. As an aside, I chuckled over the very apt Star Wars reference early on in the story.
I thought the magic system of the arcana was interesting, detailed, and very original. It wasn’t one I’d read before, and I read a lot of fantasy. I thought the guilds were a real piece of work, and a reflection of how society treats those who don’t confirm to a set of ideas of how people should be.
The characters and set up drew me into the story immediately and I kept turning pages, needing to know what happened next. I loved Toby’s mannerisms, and the way he talks and talks. And talks. He’s a great counterpoint to Darius who has been alone for so long he has to regain his ability to talk as he’s out of practice. It’s the little details like Darius’ struggle to get words out that give these characters richness and depth, and make them feel so real. Although Toby goes to Darius for help, I thought Darius needed Toby just as much. They’re both stuck in a prison of sorts—Toby with powers he can’t control, and Darius in years of isolation.
I liked the supporting cast, especially the outcasts who help Darius and Toby. They’re all struggling with coping on their own and using different methods to do so, and I hope they get their own happy endings in future books in the series. I loved the scene where Toby points out that although they couldn’t find Darius using all their magic, that they didn’t think to google?
The settings are beautifully described, and I loved the language the author uses, an example of this is footsteps described as “a broken syncopation.” I always appreciate musical references in a story. The road trip was great, and the action scenes well written, especially as Darius and his friends have to follow a very different type of GPS to find Toby. Toby’s magic is fabulous, and I loved the different kinds of magic and how they work.
I found the ending very satisfying, yet with a hint of the future that left me wanting to read more in this universe, which is how first books in series should be. More please.
I’d recommend The Mage on the Hill to readers who enjoy rich world building, quirky characters, plenty of pop culture references, and a story that keeps you turning pages. 5 out of 5 stars.