Note: The Bookie Monster first published the following review on Feb. 20.
The title of the young adult fantasy novel “Magicless” by K. Ferrin is misleading because the story is filled with more magic than most books in the genre. From the intense opening sequence to the emotionally charged climax, “Magicless” wears its heart on its book sleeve and effectively delivers a meaningful message about the link between how people treat each other and its impact on the world for better or worse.
Published June 17, “Magicless” is the nickname of the chief male protagonist in the book. His real name is Micah, but because he was born without any discernible magic ability in a world where everyone is a mage, the moniker sticks. Micah is an outcast. Only his family and the lovely but solitary mage, Alekka, treat him respectfully. He understands, but the exclusion of his peers hurts him deeply.
He’d always hoped that one day they’d accept him. He trained daily with weapons he made himself. He hunted, he learned healing skills. But none of it made any difference to the mages.
Micah lives in the village of Aclay in a land called Dorine Lillith, which is ruled with impunity by the sinister Dark Wizard. The evil mage sends monstrous Ragers and masked, child-sized creatures called Ghosts into villages to detect and kidnap nursing mothers and, in some cases, their babies, while the villagers are forced to stand by and watch. No one knows the purpose of the abductions.
Dorine Lillith was full of children raised by their fathers because their mothers had been taken shortly after they were born. No one understood exactly how the Ghosts found their marks, only that they somehow could detect the fresh, open channel of magic between a new mother and her babe. No one had any idea to what purpose the Ragers — or the Dark Wizard himself, for that matter — put their captives, only that once they were taken they never returned.
When a plan to hide the mothers and babies of Aclay from the Ghosts fails and ends in tragedy, a group of six young mages prepare a plan to attack the Dark Wizard. Micah volunteers to go, but his offer is dismissed outright. Even his friend Alekka ignores his request. However, Micah finds the group early in its journey and joins the quest.
The members of the group are a volatile mix of personalities who must learn to work together if they have any hope of ending the Dark Wizard’s reign. Among the key players is Jobin, the most powerful mage in the group but one who lacks the ability to control his magic, a tragic flaw which caused him to disfigure his mother and kill his brother.
The quest takes the group on a search for the mysterious Map Maker, the only one who knows how to find the Dark Wizard, but whose own location is unknown. Along the way, Micah, Alekka and the rest of the group fight monstrous man-sized bats and river creatures who feed on magic, but they also meet friendly allies along the way.
As they journey north to find the Dark Wizard, strong bonds form among them and their purposes become more clearly defined. Micah discovers an ability only he possesses that is vital to the mission, while Alekka learns her destiny is greater than she ever imagined.
As Micah starts earning the respect of other members of the group, he thinks, “So this is how it feels to have friends.” It is a sadly simple but uplifting thought which resonates throughout the rest of the story.
The author Ferrin avoids the pitfalls of fantasy quest clichés by injecting a number of interesting and potentially heartbreaking revelations into the plot. One of them happens in the climactic encounter with the Dark Wizard, a monster who’s committed unforgivable crimes against humanity, yet Ferrin manages to generate a spark of sympathy for the mad mage by revealing his motivation.
The chief appeal of “Magicless” is how the story embraces its sentimentality. Yes, using magic to attack enemies with fire and lightning is potent, but neither holds a candle to the power of friendship. “Magicless” shows how friendship is a positive life-changing force that can shape the destiny of the world. One of the most powerful and thoughtful scenes in the novel occurs when Micah empathizes with the Dark Wizard and considers how their fates might have been similar.
Who knew in a world of wizards that the most powerful magic would be friendship.