Mark of the Mage by R.K. Ryals

A quick YA Fantasy read speckled with some romance

The Rating: 
Mature Content Rating: PG (mild language and fantasy violence)

Have you ever wanted to marry some random guy just to escape certain death?  Maybe you wanted a tattoo on your wrist, but your mom just wouldn’t let you get one.  Perhaps you enjoy staying in the dark recesses of the library reading books all day where the coffee is bad but those plush couches by the fireplace make everything better.  (All libraries should have these.  Why have all sorts of books and no comfortable places to sit down and read them, right?)  What if, one day you find said library boarded up with a big sign on the front door.  “Do not enter, especially you.”  What do all of these things have in common (other than the obvious, which is… is there an obvious in this situation)?  There all things that happen to Drastona Consta-Mayria in Mark of the Mage.

This sixteen-year old woman has more troubles on her plate than being blessed with some crazy why-is-it-so-long name.  She is a mage and a scribe, two things that sentence you to death in the fantasy world that R.K. Ryals has created.  Her step-mother thinks it best to get her head out of the books, marry some fine gentleman, and ignore the inevitable wrist branding she will obtain for being a magic user.  (Ah… it’s all coming together).  Do, what do marriage, tattoos, and boarded up libraries have in common?  Just ask Drastona.  She know first hand.

The Good:

This book is branded as a YA fantasy romance.  I don’t read much YA and I read even less romance, but the first couple lines of this book drew me in enough that I had to read it.

“The smell. Wet ink, old parchment, and leather.  The smell consumed me, weaving its way through my nostrils and down to my eternally ink-stained fingertips. It was an old, comforting smell. The smell of new beginnings, of adventure, and of disappointment.”

This is just a snippet of what I think is the best thing this book has going for it since sliced bread. (Not that there is much of that in this book.  Does dry unappetising bread count, because there is some of that in Mark of the Mage… okay, unimportant.  Let’s get back to it.)  The hearty descriptions are wonderful, and if it wasn’t for the beautifully crafted scene in the first couple pages of chapter one, I probably wouldn’t have read it.  I did read it, though, and enjoyed how the word wafted together like charcoal of the oven and the smell of the loaf within playing with my nostril in an appetising rush of delight.

I will not spoil too much, but any good story must have conflict and any good character has had a tragedy or two.  A tragedy near the beginning of the book shapes Drastona into the woman that she becomes, playing with her mind throughout the book in a memorable and meaningful way.  The reader gets to see how this tragedy effects Drastona with every page turn.  Sometimes when something bad happens the character moves on too quickly, or because of point-of-view choices the reader doesn’t get to experience how it effects the protagonist throughout.  The reader will not soon forget this tragedy that shapes Drastona, and neither does she.  The constant reminder of her past makes the character come alive in a way you don’t often see.  It effects her world view, who she trusts, and how she acts or reacts to those people and the world around her.

I was a little bit concerned as the book drew to an end.  It seemed like Ryals would just put in a final period and say, “Taadaa!  Read the next book you sucker!” but this is not the case.  Though there is still much left undone at the end of Mark of the Mage, the conclusion was satisfyingly believable.

The Bad:

With all of that good you only rate it 3 stars!  Indeed.  Are you really for me to tell you why?  First off, this is not really a “romance” as it claims to be.  There is magic, talking animals, dragons, all those nice fantasy things and it is about a Young Adult (which seems to be the only criterion for dubbing something YA) but it doesn’t really have any romance.  Yes, there is a boy and a girl and they may have feelings for each other, but that hardly plays a role in the grand scheme of things.  There are some strange “Oh no, he touched me” and “look, a shirtless man for no reason” scenes, but this doesn’t make it romance.  I wasn’t looking for the nitty gritty details akin to adult romance or erotica, but was at least expecting something of substance.  Some of characters ask things like “do you like him” and silliness like that that seems thrown in just so Ryals would slap a “romance” tag on the final product.  It was like the author was sitting on the fence as to whether to put the romance in or not, and what is there seems juvenile and is not a real factor for the characters or the plot.  When I was a 16-year old (granted I wasn’t a 16-year old girl) I remember “romance” and the like being a big deal in my life, but this doesn’t come through when writing about the romance in this 16-year old’s life.

The plot was extremely uninspired.  If you have read any book or seen and movie of any kind, you have heard it before.  Person x is “the one” and there is some silly prophecy that says they are to save the day.  It was not bad, but is very over-done and thus came across as your standard “let’s go save the world while talking to animals… also dragons” type of story.

This is a short book and things moved very quickly.  No sooner was I in one place that all of a sudden the chapter is over and I am being introduced to some new plot element or story marker.  There was a lot more the author could have done with character/world development and description.  For Ryals’ ability at creating great description, I was surprised by how little of it there was in favour of getting the plot over with.  It just felt like the author really wanted to fast-track to the end the entire time.  There was a lot more room for expansion that I felt was an opportunity poorly waved off.

Conclusion:

Mark of the Mage is a decent coming of age YA fantasy story about this unlikely hero who is going to save the world.  Despite the over-used plot and sloppily thrown in romance, this book holds some promise that I hope future instalments in the series continue.  Drastona and her struggles will keep you reading while the good description speckled in with wet your imagination with the beauty a few simple words can provide.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords – $2.99

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