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A College of Magics Hardcover – 1 Mar 1994
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Top customer reviews
Sounds familar so far? But it isnt, the book contains so many popular fiction themes; a wicked uncle, a school of magic, hidden magical talents, but none of them are quite as you would expect from the genre. The plot and characters are much more complex, much less black and white than one would expect from a book primarily about a "college of Magics". Harry Potter it is not! (dont get me wrong, Potter is great, but this is something else entirely).
Faris has three years till shes comes of age, untill then, her uncle has sent her away to school, to keep her out of his hair, and stop her getting in the way of any embezzlement he is doing.
Of course the last thing she wants is to be sent away from her lands, especially as she doesnt trust her uncle to care for them properly while she is away. In fact she tries to fail the entrance interview in order to be sent home straight away, but the school sees her potential and keeps her on.
She makes all the friends and enemies you would expect of a book about school, but as i said, the characters are more complex, and less black and white than you would expect. And the book is not entirely about her school life, the friends she makes there, and the lessons she learns help her when she reaches 21, and returns to reclaim her Duchy from her uncle...
I only discovered this author a few weeks ago, using Amazons "search for similar books" link, (which i strongly recommend you try), and i cant wait to buy all her other books - there appears to be a sequel coming out in April!
Faris is a Duchess who isn't yet old enough to rule her province (Galazon) which is currently being looked after, on her behalf, by her evil Uncle Brinker. He sends Faris off to Greenlaw school in France to keep her out of the way - she will stay there for three years and then presumably graduate as a Greenlaw Witch, able to use magic, before taking over her Duchy.
The first third of the book describes Faris's time at Greenlaw. She is massively homesick most of the time but also makes good friends including Odile and Jane and also a significant enemy, Menary Paganell. There isn't that much discussion about the lessons at Greenlaw and her three school years pass pretty quickly in the book - most of the attention is on her interactions with her friends and the mysterious blond man who appears to be a bodyguard sent by her Uncle. He steps in and rescues her on a couple of occasions and she finds out that his name is Tyrian.
However, before Faris is able to take the final exams at the school to qualify properly her Uncle sends for her to return to Galazon; at the same time the Dean of the College tells her that she has a more significant future role as a Warden of the earth (there are four of them that keep the world in balance, although something went wrong many years before). She has to visit a man named Hilarion in Paris in order to find out more than this and she goes, in company with her friend Jane, with Tyrian and with a family retainer named Reed to meet Hilarion. Events happen on the way and she finds out a lot of strange things and that her place in the world might be more than just being Duchess of Galazon.
The third section of the book takes place back at home in Galazon and then visiting the King's palace in Aravill, where the rift in the Warden's powers is situated. Another reviewer has commented that the ending was sad - I didn't find this particularly, although I did make the mistake of reading the last few pages before I'd finished the book and so it rather spoiled a surprise that was in the latter part of the book (don't make that mistake yourself!)
This isn't your usual fantasy book - at least not for me. The action shifts to different places - the sedentary, quiet world of the College to the busy world of Paris and then the kingdom of Aravill with all the strangeness of magic there. Magic actually doesn't play much of a part in this story - no-one lets fly any Abracadabras, it's all about feelings and impressions that the magic produces (and the ability to change the weather or turn people into animals). It's the story of an 18 year old girl growing up into a 21 year old woman who has more of an understanding of her responsibilities as well as the beginnings of love, the understanding of duty and the importance of friendships.
Although I enjoyed the book and I was keen to keep reading it, it didn't really entirely grab me. It was well written and probably just as enjoyable for an adult as a teen but somehow it didn't quite scratch where I itched in this story. Mind you, I haven't enjoyed the last 3 Harry Potter books so I thought it was better than those!
Feris, the heroine, is a great character, but this is quite slow moving to start with as she enters Greenlaw's School for Witches. There is very little mention of magic until nearly three quarters of the way through. Prior mentions of magic are alluded to in a much more philosophical way than HP, a zen approach that's all about perception, will and most importantly maintaining a balance in the universe.
Faris, is befriended by Jane who is her ally throughout the book, she is hated by Menary a distant relative and haughty princess-in-waiting. Faris during the course of her time at Greenlaw discovers that she is the Warden of the North and after a chilling fight with Menary, she is dispatched to discover her destiny and how she must mend a rift in the universe. The book becomes much more fun as she arrives in Paris and must avoid political assasins and resolve her relationship with her greedy uncle Benker to infiltrate the neighbouring kingdom of Aravis.
This would have been much more successful if it had been set in an entirely fictional universe; references to Britain, Scotland and France were jarring as the book is set in a largely feudal world where cars are sometimes used. Overall, very enjoyable especially once you get past 'twee' and 'quaint' sections of boarding school feuds, and plum cake in the study. Worth sticking with although I'm disappointed that it looks like Faris will not feature so heavily in the sequel. Also the love angle between Faris and her bodyguard Tymerian is very satisfying, especially the twist, perhaps one for Tamora Pierce fans.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Faris begins the book in considerable conflict with her Uncle Brinker, Regent of Glazon. Faris suspects Brinker doesn't want to vacate the throne on her majority. After considerable confusion and drama, Faris learns the common YA lesson that relatives aren't as evil as teenagers think. True, Brinker is dishonest and intentionally irritating-but their relationship is resolved after a fashion. On a more cosmic scale, Faris is assigned to use her magic powers to heal something vague called "the rift" in the city of Avaris, capital of the Pagenells' kingdom. This is closely paralleled by healing rifts in political and family relationships-the Nallaneens and Pagenells quarreled over sovereignty issues in a previous generation.
The book's extreme wholesomeness is also very YA. There is no sex more intimate than a kiss (and only a couple of kisses). (Admittedly the book is set in an alternate Edwardian world, and Edwardian noblewomen weren't supposed to have premarital sex.) The value of responsibility is often stressed. Faris is even held up by a highwayman who turns out to be a former childhood playmate. This gives the author the opportunity of explaining that a ruler who imposes taxes that subjects can't possibly pay, drives them to crime.
In the end conditions are set up for Faris to finally marry the man she loves-and she doesn't. No believable reason is given. I suspect the author wanted to keep her options open for a sequel about Faris . (_Scholar of Magics_ is not it, the connections are only peripheral.)
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