An Inheritance of Magic is a solid fantasy with an entirely engaging Everyman of a character who comes with an equally engaging cat. I could have done with a bit more clarity on the world the story is set in, and at times things seemed to come a little easily to the main character, but this was a generally enjoyable and interesting story, enough so that I’ll pick up the necessary sequel.
Stephen Oakwood is twenty years old and adrift in the world of London. His mother left his family before he can really much remember her, and his father disappeared nearly three years ago. Before his father vanished, Stephen promised him he would continue working on his “Drucraft”, a form of magic involving tapping magical Wells and crafting sigls. He hasn’t gotten much better by the beginning of the book, an unfortunate reality when his past (mostly a mystery to him) catches up to him in the form of a competition he didn’t know existed involving people he’s never met or heard of who have decided to make him a pawn in their highly vicious and possible lethal game, leaving a very confused Stephen trying to fend off abduction, attempted murder, animal violence, and more, all while frantically trying to scale up his magical knowledge and ability so he can defend himself.
The strength of the novel I’d say is Stephen high degree of relatability combined with his equally high degree of vulnerability. You can’t help but feel for him and root for him, this poor guy barely eking out a life small paycheck to small paycheck who keeps getting thrown into the deep end of the pool when he barely knows how to tread water and has no idea why he’s getting tossed in there by people who he assumed were decent people because he himself is. He’s a well-constructed, fleshed out character with a winning voice. Other characters aren’t as fully developed, but I’ll give Jacka the benefit of the doubt that this is less a writing flaw than a result of the way the story is constructed, thanks to how we’re in Stephen’s POV and not only does he only have brief moments with most of these characters, they’re all so secretive and move in a world so out of his own realm of his experience that at this point at least it wouldn’t make sense to get a full picture of them. Two of the characters may edge a bit close to cliché, with one of them pulling a “someday I’ll show you; I’ll show you all” moment (actual phrasing: “Someday I’ll be stronger than any of you! … You should have helped me when you had the chance!”), but at this point Jacka is mostly on the right side of the line.
The plot is pretty straightforward and mostly follows two tracks. One is a race against time as Stephen tries to level up, and so we see him tracking down Wells, practicing his craft and sigl making, trying to learn from more knowledgeable people, etc. If it were an 80’s movie we’d probably get a training montage. The other track involves the machinations of those trying to kill and/or use Stephen, and these proved most of the turns in the plot. The story is mostly well paced, though it can slow down at times while we get the exposition regarding Drucraft. The other, relatively minor but niggling issue I had with the magic system is I never had a firm sense of just how it works in this world. At times it seems like nobody knows about it (his friends for instance mock him for believing such stuff) and at other times it appears everyone knows (or should know) about it. I never felt fully on firm ground with its context.
A positive point, though, is the underlying focus on class throughout the novel. As mentioned, Stephen is living on the financial edge. His opponents, meanwhile, are three levels of uber-rich —literally in terms of money, but also in terms of magical power as well as political power. Stephen therefore spends a good amount of time commenting on the haves and have-nots dichotomy, as when he notes how a company involved in Well claiming exploits its workers who find the wells, or when he points out that while his first paycheck from them “wasn’t much . . . if you’ve never had to live with the pressure that comes with running out of money, it’s hard to explain just how big a relief it is to feel as though you’re pulling away from it.” He also does a nice job of explaining how if you’re poor, small setbacks have a snowball effect that affects the lower-class so much more than the middle and upper class. The economic theme adds a nice bit of substance to the novel.
In the end, the few issues I had with An Inheritance of Magic were relatively minor, noticeable but not ruinous or even overly distracting, though I’m hoping some of them are less noticeable in the sequel. Which, by the way, is a requirement; this book ends on a cliffhanger, albeit one most readers will see coming. A fun opening to a new series.