Volke is an outcast, the orphan of criminal parents with no prospects beyond his gravedigging apprenticeship. Yet he dreams of becoming a famous arcanist – a person who bonds with a mystical animal and gains unique, magical abilities.
“The white hart huffed and let out a single laugh. Then he turned to face me, his smile somehow widening, distorting the creature’s deer face into something straight out of a nightmare.
“Come closer,” he whispered.”
Volke and his best friend Illia travel to the Endless Mire in search of mystical animals rumoured to be stranded following a shipwreck. When a crazed white hart attacks Volke in the mire, he bonds with a knightmare -a creature taking the form of a suit of armour made of shadow- and together they defeat the animal.
But the knightmare Luthair has bonded with a person once before. With it’s previous arcanist murdered, Luthair has its own agenda, one that involves vengeance and Volke’s hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma.
Knightmare Arcanist is a young adult fantasy novel described as being in the same vein as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Codex Alera and the Cradle series. Having read none of those books, my best comparison is ‘gothic Pokémon’ with a touch of Princess Mononoke, which is just as awesome as it sounds.
I haven’t read a YA novel in many years other than the occasional accident (looking at you Children of Blood and Bone and The Rithmatist), so I was nervous going into Knightmare Arcanist, the first instalment in Frith Chronicles. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had reading this fast-paced fantasy adventure. My mum often says that good quality books for boys in their early teens are hard to find. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but I know the younger me would have killed to have this series.
The book features all the faces you would expect in a good coming of age story: the underdog protagonist destined for great things, the smart best friend who has the intelligence to help them achieve said great things, a cantankerous mentor with questionable teaching methods and a villain with a winning smile.
Stovall writes strong and convincing characters and I found myself either loving or appropriately hating each one. While YA deals tends to deal more in absolutes and I found the black-and-white concept of bully vs. good guy refreshing, relationships between the characters do evolve in an interesting way throughout the story which adds depth.
The most entertaining thing about the book is discovering the different types of mythical creatures -my favourite being a brief appearance by a hydra named Raisen- and their arcanist’s unique magical abilities. This concept is really well developed and it’s a lot of fun to discover.
When Volke is more or less forced to bond with what is essentially a suit of armour, at first I was disappointed thinking he got stuck with the equivalent of some weird, new generation Pokémon. But it actually turns out to have impressive abilities, and being that Luthair is a key character itself, its physical form is well thought out.
This is a fairly violent book and contains elements of horror that I loved, particularly an action scene in the early chapters which was what brought to mind Princess Mononoke.
Knightmare Arcanist is an accessible and exciting book with a unique magic system, mystical animals, arcanist schools, pirates, horror and true friendship, more than enough to satisfy any YA fantasy fan.