Armed & Magical (Amazon UK, Canada)
by Lisa Shearin (website, blog)
Ordinary sorceress. Extraordinary power.
Suddenly she's the most popular girl in town.
My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker—a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I'm psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls it's ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn't even begin to describe it...
All Raine wants is her life back—which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses. To sort things out, she heads for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. It's also home to power-grubbing mages who want Raine dead and goblins who see her as a thief. As if that's not enough, Mid's best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and Raine's expected to find them.
Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone's power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly.
Wow; I've had to sit on this book for months. They sent out the ARCs really early. However, in the tradition of Fantasy Book Critic, I wanted to post this on the day of the release. I'm a day early.
As I mentioned in last week's Magic Lost, Trouble Found revisit post, Lisa Shearin was my first debut. Well, at least she was my first debut that I wrote about here at Fantasy Debut. Since she's neck-deep in deadline hell, we have postponed the interview that we had planned until sometime in May.
Armed and Magical picks up almost right where Magic Lost, Trouble Found left off. It's a week later and Raine is on the Isle of Mid with her cousin, Phaelan ("He was a pirate. Excuse me, a seafaring businessman."), and the leader of the Conclave Guardians, Mychael ("an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, coated in yum"). Raine's young friend Piaras is also there as a student. He is the most powerful young spellsinger to come along in decades.
I don't know what to make of Piaras. He's way too powerful to be a sidekick. He gives Raine some serious competition power-wise, even with her Saghred-induced "resume enhancement". I like being befuddled like this. I keep wondering if before the series is over, Raine might find herself facing Piaras. It could be heart-wrenching. However, this is all idle speculation. I have no insider knowledge!
As the blurb suggests, the protective Raine finds herself hunting down some missing students. She makes a trip to the library and makes her library-use roll big-time. She finds a tiny, almost unimportant-looking volume that turns out to be a journal of sorts, and the author is mighty interesting. Naturally, getting out of the library with the book is a lot more interesting than going in. Raine really can't go anywhere without running into excitement.
Remember Sarad Nukpana, the power-mad sorcerer who tried to get his hands on the Saghred in the first book? Well, now that he's safely nestled inside the Saghred, they've become bosom buddies. And he's anything but neutralized.
At my year-end post on my favorites of 2007, I named Raine as my favorite female character. In this novel, Raine is a bit darker and a bit snarkier. She's still every bit as protective over those younger and/or weaker than she, so you still gotta love her. Still, the novel reads, very subtly, as if the Saghred is affecting her personality. In fact, it is so subtle that I applaud the author. There's no overt struggle, no in-your-face "Give yourself to the dark side, Raine" (although Sarad Nukpana does get cocky a time or two).
The love triangle between Raine, Mychael and Raine's ex-boyfriend Tam continues to develop. Considering the compressed timeframe of these two novels, it's good that Shearin has not taken it too far. After all, in novel-time, only two weeks (or so) have passed. Raine is attracted to Tam and Mychael for different reasons. Tam has some fascinating developments that the reader (me) and Raine both should have seen coming, but did not. And there is some truly wicked kissing going on between them. Mychael gets his kiss in as well, and it ain't no good-boy kiss.
The hilarious situations continue and are one-upped. Raine's magic has grown so powerful that it often works much better than she expects, with sometimes-hilarious results. I don't want to give it away because it is so funny, but there is one scene where Raine disguises herself that had me rolling with laughter.
This followup does not disappoint. It continues to be as fun as the first novel, with lots of "how the heck is Raine going to get out of this" moments. It's a fast read with a lively conclusion that again points the reader to the next volume, The Trouble with Demons.