Review: The Black Mage: First Year by Rachel E. Carter

The Black Mage: First Year by Rachel E Carter 08/12/14

Before the age of seventeen the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice –follow tradition, or pursue a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight or mage…

For 15-year-old Ryiah the choice has always been easy. Become a warrior and leave the boring confines of her lowborn life behind. Set to enroll in the School of Knighthood on the eve of her next birthday, plans suddenly shift when her twin brother discovers powers. Hoping that hers will soon follow, she enrolls with Alex at the Academy instead –the realm’s most notorious war school for those with magic.

Yet when she arrives Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Every “first-year” is given a trial year to prove their worth –and no amount of hard work and drive will guarantee them a spot. It seems like everyone is rooting for her to fail –and first and foremost among them Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.

When an accidental encounter leads Ryiah and Darren to an unlikely friendship she is convinced nothing good will come of it. But the lines become blurred when she begins to improve –and soon she is a key competitor for the faction of Combat… Still, nothing is ever as it seems –and when the world comes crashing down around her, Ry is forced to place faith in the one thing she can believe in –herself. Will it be enough?

Title: The Black Mage: First Year (The Black Mage #1)
Author: Rachel E. Carter
Source: Finished copy from author
Publication date: August 12, 2014

I received The Black Mage: First Year from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I had hoped that Throne of Glass would be my entry point into the fantasy genre, but that didn’t work out too well for me. (I still intend to go back and give it another try someday, but for now I’ve set it aside.) There’s a reason that series has so many fans, but The Black Mage is more accessible to this fantasy newbie, and it held my interest throughout. It’s fantasy and there’s magic, but it’s not so out there that someone new to the genre and unsure about it is put off or confused. It’s basically a medieval setting with magic. Most of the names are “normal” English names, nothing to struggle over pronouncing.

The excitement begins right at the start of the book, with Ryiah and her twin brother Alex encountering bandits as they make their way to the Academy, a training ground for mages. Once they make it to the Academy, the description makes it very easy to picture what they see:

Black marble covered the entire floor, making every step we took echo disconcertingly.

In a contrast that should have been jarring but wasn’t, the walls were a rough, uncut sandstone. On them metal sconces held ever-burning torches in place, but instead of the natural, golden radiance of fire, they emitted a flickering, crystalline blue flame.

At the end of the passage I could see a large room containing an enormous, spiraling stair.

As I approached the atrium, the sheer size of it seemed to multiply. The stairwell stood at its center, steadily rising and secured by thick iron railings. As it touched the second floor, the well separated into two twisting cases with a giant, many-‑paned window at its base. Facing due west, the window revealed the jagged rocks and sea that Sjeka was famous for.

It sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Life at the Academy combines a boarding school atmosphere with physical and mental training. The one hundred twenty-two hopefuls who show up on that first day face a very, very difficult year. Fifteen — five each from the Combat, Restoration, and Alchemy concentrations — will become apprentices. The rest will either quit early or will fail to achieve their goal during the week-long exam/competition at the end of the first year. That’s a lot of pressure, some internal and some, undoubtedly, coming from familial expectations and the Academy instructors.

There are obvious characters to root for — Ryiah, her brother Alex, her new friend Ella — and villains — the highborn Priscilla and brothers Jake and William — but it’s more difficult to tell where Prince Darren stands. The “non-heir,” as Ryiah calls him in private, due to him being the second son, younger brother to the heir to the throne, is the best student in the class. He also works, and studies, harder than anyone except maybe Ryiah. He’s led a privileged life, one that Ryiah can’t even imagine, but he has to live up to his family’s expectations for his future just like anyone else at the Academy.

There’s also that attraction Ryiah feels for him. Bad boys don’t really do it for me, so I’m not as invested in Ryiah/Darren as I could be, but I’m willing to see where the next books take their storyline.

In contrast to Darren, Ryiah’s magic has limits. She struggles to keep up with her class, spending extra time training and practicing, and sometimes she still lags behind. It’s nice to read about a main character who faces these difficulties and keeps on going. Ryiah is very determined to be one of the five Combat apprentices and she doesn’t give up easily.

I’m definitely going to be reading future books in this series (three more are planned) and in the meantime, I’ll be looking for similar stories to help me ease further into the fantasy genre. The Black Mage: First Year is an excellent first step and it leaves me wanting more!

four and a half stars



  1. Wow, Jenna, this review is seriously amazing!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my book and I’m so happy you liked it! You totally got where I was going with the modern medieval take so it wasn’t too jarring for readers (since I, for one, have difficulties reading long winding epic fantasies like Lord of the Rings -that’s what movies are for, har, har). And on the Darren note, no worries, not everyone is going to cheer for the bad boy -and I definitely have a good guy love interest coming into play in book two to complicate things -though, shamefully, I will always have a weakness for the bad one;P Maybe I can even get you to root for Darren by the end of the series! Again, thank you, thank you, thank you -you are such a sweetheart for taking time to review my book:)

  2. Ohh this looks intriguing
    Jen recently posted…Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson #BookReview #Giveaway #FFBCMy Profile

  3. I’ll read it and if I see fit, I’ll pass it along to one of my daughters who I think will just love it, thanks for sharing !
    Red Iza recently posted…Sunday post #26 : What’s up, doc ?My Profile