Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Dragon Mage’ by M.L. Spencer organised by Storytellers on Tour, this is the first book in The Rivenworld series and is also an entrant in this years SPFBO 7.
This is a book that has been on my radar since it came out, and I leapt at the chance to read it for this tour. I went in with high expectations from everything I heard, and yet I still wasn’t prepared for just how much I loved this book or the emotional impact it would have. It was hard to write a review that really encapsulated just how much I loved and needed EVERYTHING about this book, and even now I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Dragon Mage is certainly a favourite read of 2021 and is going to be on my list of favourites for a long time to come.
I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.
Sometimes as readers we consume books (I am certainly ‘guilty’ of that), other times a book consumes us and this is one of those cases. This is a big book. I had known the page count beforehand, but somehow it was only when I saw it in person that I realised just how much of a chonk this book was, but when you’re reading it, it doesn’t feel like it. I was so absorbed that time and pages lost all meaning, and all there was the story that M.L. Spencer has woven, and it was almost a shock to reach the end, although it wasn’t really an ending (not within the book itself, because Dragon Mage is wrapped up beautifully) but because I am currently still in the throes of a book hangover of epic proportions and I think it will be a while before I stop thinking about this one.
Dragon Mage was a book that felt like coming home.
I grew up on books about dragons and Dragonriders, even now when my tastes and forays into fantasy have broadened considerably that is something that will always draw me in. Hence the fact that Dragon Mage was an immediate addition to my TBR when it was released. I lost countless hours as a child searching for Dragons and dreaming of riding on them, and this book just took that love and nostalgia and turned it into something epic and magnificent and new. This book in many ways feels like a homage to all the wonder and splendour of classic high fantasy – you’ve got the magic, the dragons, the hero’s journey, and the sundering of the world and so many aspects – but it doesn’t stop there, because those classic features are balanced with an approach, writing style and characters that add their own charm and spin to that feeling and make it stand apart in glorious sunlight.
The worldbuilding in this book was beautifully crafted in such a way that it didn’t feel you were reading about a different world, but breathing it in. This was due to a wonderful blending of vivid prose, and the little details that can bring a world to life, through everyday interactions between the characters, to the wider history and politics. This detail carries into so many aspects – there’s a lot of detail about blacksmithing and it’s fascinating, and perhaps not what you usually expect to see in such a detailed form, but here it works, and just adds another dimension to the story. Also, there’s a MAP! (Come on it’s me, it had to be mentioned). Another aspect that I particularly loved was that there were two worlds – the World Above and the World Below, separated by a veil, which added an element of almost portal fantasy into the story and also put me a little bit in mind of a Flight of Dragons – with most of the magical beings being found within the World Below, while those in the World Above have largely been separated from it.
The magic system in this book was quite simple, in an elegant way. I loved the imagery of the strands of aether, and how that could be used. However, what I really liked was the idea of Essence – and how in the World Above it had almost become a commodity that was in great demand by those who wanted the access to magic that this essence would grant them. I’m always a fan of magic systems, where there is either that demand and therefore a risk to the magic users, or has risks and checks, and Dragon Mage checks both of those boxes, with the idea of magic-users needing to be balanced out by a Shield was fascinating.
The worldbuilding is fantastic, and there are DRAGONS, but at its heart, this book is a character-driven fantasy of the highest calibre. Spencer’s characterisations are spot on and have given us some truly wonderful, multi-faceted characters, whose stories hit home on so many levels. Aram is our main point of view character, and this is very much his story and his journey – as with the worldbuilding, we get all the small details that make up his whole – he’s not a ready born hero. He’s complicated and human, and throughout the book, we’re there with his struggles, both personal and more and his growth, because this is a beautifully executed coming of age story for a character who captures your heart from the moment you meet him. Aram is on the autistic spectrum, and the way Spencer has written it is everything and not just because of the representation, but because of how it is executed here – it is his strength and weakness, it is part of him, but doesn’t define him and it doesn’t sideline him. Aram is everything because of all the parts of him, and this was so beautiful and moving to see here. (You should also absolutely check out M.L. Spencer’s article HERE which is part of Justin’s Neuodivergence in Fiction series across at Fanfiaddict)
That strength of that characterisation is present across the board. Markus is another fantastic example, and his friendship with Aram is wonderful to behold – and the kind of friendship that I would love to see more of across fantasy. It such a large part of both of their stories. I also loved Esmir as a character – to the point that as soon as we encountered him, I knew he would be a favourite. There are so many wonderful characters in this book (and… some not so wonderful, but still fantastically written), and as with every aspect of this book, they were an integral part of the story and Aram’s journey, and the connections were human and believable at every level. This emotional depth wasn’t limited to the human characters though, and the bonds that were shared with the dragons were just as deep, if not deeper, and I loved those interactions – as well as Aram’s interactions with the Elysium.
Dragon Mage is a beautiful book inside and out (I mean look at that cover) and it really is a sum of all its parts, the author balancing all the different elements and weaving them into a story that is everything I love about fantasy and MORE. The prose flows throughout, whether delving into the worldbuilding, the details of blacksmithing, or weaving action sequences that sweep you away into magical clashes or aerial battles, and it really is a long book that doesn’t feel long. I loved every moment I spent in this world – and hope to spend many more in the future, and this will certainly be one of those books that I come back to over and over again because as I said, this was a book that consumed me. Now, I’m off to throw this book (*not literally because I want to keep this book forever) at my friends, because they need to read it, and so do you!
About the Author:
ML Spencer lives in Southern California with her three children and two cats. She has been obsessed with fantasy ever since the days of childhood bedtime stories. She grew up reading and writing fantasy fiction, playing MMORPG games, and living, as mom put it, “in her own worlds.” ML now spends each day working to bring those worlds into reality.
Prize: Dragon Mage by ML Spencer – US Only
Grand Prize: Hardcover copy
Runners-Up: Paperback copy
Starts: June 16th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: June 23rd, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
You can enter here:a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.