Master of Sorrows – Justin Call

I know I’m not a natural fan of YA fiction, but I can usually manage to appreciate a well-told and constructed YA story.  Sadly Master of Sorrows by Justin Call isn’t it (review copy from Gollancz).

The premise here is very familiar.  A young orphan (Annev) is raised by a wise old man in a small village cut off from the world.  He goes to school where he has friends and enemies, and competes to graduate and become a magic hunter.  But he is hiding a mysterious secret: a deformity and his ability to do magic.  What Call is trying to do is to subvert some of that classic story by having Annev be the Chosen One of the dark lord, and make him an antihero rather than a classic fantasy hero.  But it just doesn’t work.

The world-building really lets the story down and makes it an unpleasant book to read.  Call has chosen to have the founding principle of his world’s religion be the stigmatisation of all disabilities.  Any child born with any disability is immediately marked out as claimed by the dark lord and killed.   Even if Call intends this to signal to the reader that this society is one that we should not be taking as a healthy or a good place, the unremitting structural ableism makes this book a really uncomfortable read.

The characterisation is also weak.  For reasons that are completely unclear, despite Annev having a disability that he masks with the use of a forbidden magic hand, he is passionate about fitting into a society that would expel him with horror if they realised the truth about him.  For a Chosen One, he is remarkably stupid, regularly making unwise choices, ignoring advice and doing reckless things.  The adults aren’t much better.  The teachers at the Academy are two-dimensional caricatures.  And Annev’s friends and classmates aren’t much better.  With very little effort you could map all of them onto principal characters from Harry Potter.  Except without Hermione, because without exception all of the female characters in the novel are shallow, manipulative and horrible.

A more skilled writer could do something really interesting and exciting with the idea of a story focusing on the Dark Lord’s Chosen One and a society that believes itself to be good but is in urgent need of revolution.  But this is not that book.

Avoid.

Goodreads rating: 1*

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