Marc reviews ‘The Mage on the Hill’ (Web of Arcana #1) by Angel Martinez. This book was published by Dreamspinner Press on May 7th, 2019 and is 170 pages long.
Why I read this book: I love fantasy stories and Angel Martinez has a unique style that I love. So when I saw the gorgeous cover, it easily drew me in and I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible. I’m glad I had the chance to read and review this book and interview the author! 🙂
A young magic user who wants desperately to live. A jaded recluse who has forgotten what living means. They’re each other’s only chance. Toby’s wild magic is killing him. The mage guilds have given up on him, and it’s only a matter of time before he dies in a spectacular, catastrophic bang. His only hope is an exiled wizard who lives in seclusion—and is rumored to have lost his mind. The years alone on his hilltop estate have not been good for Darius Valstad. After the magical accident that disfigured him and nearly drowned Pittsburgh, he drifts through his days, a wraith trapped in memories and depression. Until a stricken young man collapses on his driveway, one who claims Darius is his last chance. For the first time in fifteen years, Darius must make a choice—leave this wild mage to his fate or take him in and try to teach him, which may kill them both. The old Darius, brash and commanding, wouldn’t have hesitated. Darius the exile isn’t sure he can find the energy to try.
1) How did you get the idea for this book and did you always know you wanted to make an entire series in this new world?
Ideas for books come from odd angles sometimes. A character, a phrase, an idea… I knew I wanted a story with magic users, which led to needing a magic system for them, which then led to the Web. So this one came from an isolated piece of world building. I did start plotting with the intention of a series from the beginning. Not something I always manage, but there it is.
2) The plot of the book feels very contained to a few places and characters and mostly focuses on Toby and Darius. I loved the slow burn and the focus on the characters and really connected to them. Will future books also be as character-driven and contained or will the likely expansion of major characters mean a faster pace and plot-driven story for the next book?
The nice thing about the first book is that readers have already been introduced to the majority of characters. There will be new ones, of course, but I do want to preserve that contained feeling. (Cozy urban fantasy? If that a thing? LOL.) The stories are about Darius, his closest associates and their struggles to fit into a society that doesn’t know what to do with them. The intent is for the stories to focus on character, but things have certainly gotten away from me before.
3) One central aspect of the world building in this series that makes it feel very unique is the use of the web of arcana that gives this series its title. We don’t use elemental system in the real world anymore, but there certainly is a beauty to it and it is a great foundation for a magical system that feels cool and different. How much research into the different elements and how they interact did you do for this series and what fascinates you about elements?
One of my greatest joys in school was chemistry. Discovering that all matter could be broken down into knowable component parts was almost a religious epiphany for me. A fascination with the periodic table necessarily followed. I started the web with the old Greek elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. A good foundation, but not enough for what I wanted. For the major arcana, I started to sift through worldwide ancient elemental systems and for the minor, I pulled up old periodic table groupings. Since mages would have parsed out the web in centuries past, it didn’t make sense to use the groupings from the modern periodic table. So the major arcana are elements writ large and the minor arcana are elemental groupings that drill down into those individual components. All more of a reminder than actual research, I suppose? I can’t claim to hold everything about every elemental group in my head. Goodness, no. But picking the groupings and puzzling out where to put them on the web was more a matter of reference than research.
4) The elemental magic in your world reminded me a lot of my school days. Everyone has different skills and the abilities come really easy to some people,
while others need to learn hard. Then there are always students who don’t quite fit the system, not because they are stupid, but because they think and learn and do things differently and are often left behind by our school systems, because they don’t fit into the mold that works for most students. Is this a comparison you intended when writing this book and what do you think would be a good solution to this problem either in your book or the real world?
There are a couple of things going on here. What I wanted Toby to illustrate is the generation coming into adulthood now – often belittled by their elders who have left
them with a ruined world, but somehow optimistic still. I didn’t specifically think of the school system when writing, but that’s certainly part of it. There’s a lot of the “other” in my writing, Toby and company being one of the most blatant examples. They don’t fit nicely in the rules set out by older authority figures and are therefore considered unfit for “normal” society, sometimes even dangerous. A thread of anti-science and anti-progressives ideas works its way into the story as well. The authorities are so hidebound, their beliefs about what can and can’t be so deeply ingrained, that they don’t want to consider innovative thinking. Change is dangerous.
Science is the enemy. All too true about our own world as well – and this applies to all parts of life, school included, where if you don’t conform to the models of learning set out, you simply are allowed to fail. I see efforts being made to change this with IEP’s (individual education plans) for kids, who have different learning needs like autistic children, but these are followed and applied inconsistently. Acceptance is a long way off still.
5) The story deals with a lot of dark topics like for example euthanasia, forced medical drug use and suicide, but is balanced out well by Toby’s optimism and the empathy he has even for the people who would do harm to him. I could not be this understanding in his place, I think, but I admire his tenacity and his strong will to live. Do you feel empathy for the people who see themselves as “good” even when they turn to methods like euthanasia and close themselves off to new ideas? Are they really motivated by their desire to help and protect people or do they want to retain power and protect the status quo?
I really do believe that there are people who are motivated by the need to serve the greater good and that by enforcing rules that have worked in the past, they believe they keep the greatest number of people safe. In some ways, yes, I empathize with them. They are sincere in their efforts. They believe they’re the good guys. In some instances, they’re justified to feel the way they do—by removing someone who’s a real and present danger to countless others, they would serve the greater good. (In cases of the very powerful it’s just about power, but in most cases, I think people believe themselves right, just, and good.)
Until a less destructive solution comes along. Change is hard. It’s scary. Until a new idea’s been proven beyond a doubt, it’s terribly hard to make that leap. The struggle to get people to believe in germs was a hard-fought battle, let alone getting people to wash their hands and bathe regularly. I certainly don’t advocate for an anti-science, deaf ear to new ideas viewpoint, but I do know where it comes from. People can want to do the right thing and still be wrong.
6) There are aspects of the classical hero’s journey and other familiar concepts in this story, but the way everything fits together and unfolds feels very unique and fresh. It was interesting to slowly learn more and more about the unique world you created. What was your intention in letting the story unfold like this and will future books be similar in style, with readers discovering exciting bits and pieces of the mythology over time that they can later piece together like a puzzle?
As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of massive information dumps and prefer to find out about a world in a natural way, as the story progresses. Because that’s what I like, it’s how I try to write. There are definitely unanswered questions and bits of mage society we haven’t seen yet that I hope I’ll be able to spool out over the next few books. Whether the bits and pieces are exciting, I’ll leave up to the reader.
7) Is there any aspect of the book that we haven’t discussed yet that is important to you and could be interesting for our readers?
I have shamelessly set up the protagonists for the next few stories in introducing Darius’ friends. Readers saw that, of course, but this might be the first time I’ve
intentionally built characters with that in mind. Usually it’s more a case of interesting side characters creep in, steal certain scenes, and demand stories.
8) Do you have any other releases or projects you can tell us about?
Always projects! The next one up on deck will be The Hunt for Red Fluffy [out now], which is Brimstone #5 (demons in space, sf humor), and after that, most likely the next Web of
Arcana book, currently in its first draft.
I really enjoyed this book. It is very slow-burning and character-driven, but the characters are very interesting and have a great chemistry, so the slow burn is very worth it. The action of this book is mostly isolated to a few places and characters and readers don’t get a lot of info about the world at first. It was interesting to learn more and more about the cool and intriguing world the author has built, but I must admit that this approached caused me to not be hooked from the beginning. I needed to orient myself and get used to the world.
As soon as I was hooked, though, I appreciated more and more to discover the awesome worlds the author created, as every page seemed to show me a little more. There are a lot of very creative and awesome ideas that made the world feel authentic and fresh for me. I loved the system of magic in this series and how it works and the questions about society and good and evil that this book inspired in me. It gave me a lot to think about.
Toby and Darius are great main characters. Darius is strong and big and rather quiet. He has been isolated for a long time and has a lot of luggage on his shoulders. But he also very clearly has a big heart. Toby has been trough terrible things, but has a will power and optimism that is inspiring, even in the most dire of situations. The two are opposites in many ways, but they fit together so well and have amazing chemistry.
I also really enjoyed Darius’ friends, who we will get to know more closely in future books of this series, I am sure. They bring a very different dynamic to the world and a different perspective, also on Darius, that I am looking forward to discovering. If you like fantasy stories, I can really recommend this book! 🙂
My Rating: 8.5/10 Pots of Gold (85% Recommended) – Compares to 4.25/5 Stars.
Angel Martinez currently lives part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head. She has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.
Angel’s alter ego writes the all-ages science fiction – Sandra Stixrude.