Editor’s note: At the time we are posting this review, this 99c at Amazon.
The Summoned Mage (2017) is the diary of Sesskia, a 27 year old thief and secret mage: secret because being a mage is viewed as an executable offense in her country of Balaen. But her magical powers have saved Sesskia’s life before, and in any case are a part of her very self that are both exhilarating and terrifying. So Sesskia wanders from place to place, seeking new magic spells (called pouvrin) and leaving clues behind her for other mages. So far Sesskia has gathered pouvrin for summoning fire and water, seeing through things, walking through walls, and moving objects with her mind.
Then one morning she is suddenly and magically hauled into a strange new world, where she recognizes no one and nothing. It soon becomes apparent that there are many more mages in this world, and magic is a respected craft, but life is still rough when you don’t understand the language and are being held as a virtual prisoner. Plus there’s a sarcastic chief mage (Sesskia calls him Smug Git in her diary) who manages to annoy Sesskia every time they meet. But Sesskia can’t understand why all the mages in this new country use gestures and writing to perform even the simplest magical spells.
As Sesskia learns the language of Castavir, she realizes that Castavir and her home land, Balaen, were once a single land that long ago was magically divided into two separate worlds, existing in different planes of reality. But now the two lands are converging again, a process that could wreak havoc on both lands and kill thousands. The mages of Castavir are trying to figure out a way to either stop the process or minimize the damage it will cause. And Sesskia and her magic ― pouvrin are unknown in Castavir ― could be key to that process.
Melissa McShane’s writing style is appealing and lucid, and it’s a pleasure watching Sesskia gradually integrate into this entirely new world and gain trusted friends (and fall in love) for the first time in her life. There are some intriguing political maneuverings to balance the magical and romantic plotlines. The characters in The Summoned Mage are well-rounded, with very human weaknesses. The Castaviran Empire’s lovely but murderously insane God-Empress is a unique character, and it’s terrifying when she takes a personal interest in Sesskia.
Sesskia ― true to her nature as a thief and wanderer ― spends a fair amount of time on illicit exploratory excursions. Those explorations, although a convenient way to find out more about the world she has landed in, got a little tiresome after a while. The magical system in The Summoned Mage was creative but somewhat confusing, particularly where McShane uses unfamiliar words like pouvra, th’an and kathana to describe different types of magical spells. It takes a little time to assimilate, for both Sesskia and the reader (a glossary at the end helps to clarify these and other unusual terms and place names). And while I always appreciate a good romance and was definitely into Sesskia’s love interest, the Castaviran culture has a rather strange take on marriage that didn’t entirely hold water for me.
The Summoned Mage ends with a cliffhanger, but the entire CONVERGENCE trilogy was published simultaneously, so there’s no need to wait until you can start the second book, The Wandering Mage. And I didn’t!