Team TBR Challenge Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott
Fantasy released by Tor on January 18, 2022.

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott book coverIn Kate Elliott’s Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.

They choose their laws to secure their power.

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

This book kept calling to me ever since Limecello assigned me this month’s TBR theme, which is “after the war.” This book is not a romance, but I think it does a wonderful job of exploring the nuances of what comes after a revolution and how it isn’t as clearcut as we might expect. It is set in a fantasy world, where there is magic, and where a revolutionary war recently took place. The main character, Fellion, has magical abilities over fire, and is working at an inn when the book begins. A major issue I had with this book is that while there are clues to Fellion’s background and motivations, we don’t fully understand them until almost the end, so that the tension between the choices she has at the end of the book hadn’t built up enough for me to be fully invested either way. I think you could say this is a coming-of-age story, though Fellion’s age was never entirely clear to me, other than young but not a child, so I hesitate to stick the book with that descriptor. Lest you be misled by the blurb, this is not going to be a rags to riches story.

Fellion’s values are consistent throughout the story, even when she learns new details about the stories that shaped her world. She values access to education, which is evident in the first chapter of the book. She sneakily teaches fellow servants how to read and write while she is supposed to be cleaning the fancy privies at the inn where she is an indentured servant. She values respect. She tries to address almost everyone by name, instead of by their position or title (unless she is being observed or is being sarcastically compliant). The stories that shaped her world have to do with how some people have magical abilities and others don’t. The two main factions have differing explanations for this occurrence, and also for why some people can do more with their magical abilities than others. However, the monarchists—the people that take Fellion hostage and at the same time free her from her servitude—didn’t make this kind of information available to everyone, just to the elite. This is partly why Fellion makes the choice she does at the end of the book.

The other reason is why I struggled with this book on my first reading and why it went back on my TBR pile. We don’t know most of Fellion’s background until the very end. She alludes to it throughout the book, but she doesn’t put the pieces together, even in her own internal musings, so unless you as the reader want to take some wild guesses in the middle of this book, you don’t fully understand what moves Fellion until the point where she explains her backstory to the monarchists, which is near the end of the book. I did not like this authorial choice. Like I said at the top of this review, the delay in revealing this information felt like it diminished the build-up of tension between the choices Fellion is faced with, and so I was less emotionally invested in these choices as a result. Of course, your mileage may vary.

I think this is a lovely book and offered some food for thought in these fraught times we live in (I would still like not to live in the middle of a dystopian novel, personally).

Grade: B+

You can  buy a copy here.

*Editor’s Note: Aidee sent this in June 14, and the delay was entirely my fault. My apologies to Aidee, and to you all.

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