Book Review: "Mystic" by Jason Denzel


Onto the next review in 2017's summer reading list! Here's the customary spoiler warning that is always present before my reviews. If you've been thinking about picking up a copy of Jason Denzel's book, Mystic, without possible spoilers you may not want to read on.

For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive. Mystics have theunique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society. Such has always been the tradition—until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella navigates a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.

I happened upon Denzel's book at my local bookstore while trying to fill in my lineup for my summer reading list. The story sounded interesting enough so I picked it up and read on through.

My overall reaction is that the story is pretty good. I couldn't find many complaints with the story, which is good. I also, however, didn't find a lot that impacted me the way other fantasy books (regardless of being teen fiction or not) have offered me. Now, this criticism on the surface probably seems very negative, but its not intended that way. I have plenty of praise for this book for a very specific reason I'll get to later. For now, I'll cover what I overall liked versus disliked in this book.

The character dynamics are interesting and believable. Pomella's a charismatic, spunky main character you're going to want to root for. It also helps that our heroin explores the idea of being a slave among nobles with a chance to completely bypass to the highest class of the world's caste system.

Maybe it was Denzel's experience in filmmaking that helped with this bit of his novel, but the story plays with the reader's expectations. Its refreshing to see, though I can't admittedly go as far as to say the novel is cliché free. More on that later.

The "Myst" in the book is also an interesting concept...so far. Seemingly people in this world can control the "Myst" through enough exposure, but it does also require skill. There's a plane of existence where creatures of the "Myst" interact with us humans and can aid in identifying who does and does not seem to be brimming with a knack for meddling with the magical fog.

Here's where the "so far" comes in. This is only the first book, so arguably as a reader I can't know everything. I have faith that Denzel has the potential to bring something new to the concept, but for now the "Myst" is close to being a foggy version of "the force." I'm no expert on the concept, and by no means do I expect fantasy writers to have a PHD in their own magic systems, but the lack of explanation towards how the "Myst" works definitely takes its toll.

There's realistically only one definite dislike I had towards this story, even though I know its a staple of any teen fiction novel, it still ended up bothering me. The love triangle present in this story was a little tiring. This is where we are definitely not cliché-free. There's a definite possibility I'm being unfair, or assuming the wrong thing here, but I felt we could have done without the love triangle here altogether. Pomella is an interesting enough character on her own, and admittedly female protagonists don't need a pair of boys to pine after her to make her alluring.

I found myself skimming through every chaste love scene between her and either of the boys because I just didn't find it interesting. There was also a twist in this love triangle I saw coming, so I'm obviously less inclined to like it.

Here's the part where I go into the "praise I have for a particular reason." There's admittedly not much in this book that I haven't seen in other fantasy books in terms of magic, plot and characters. Again, that may on the surface sound like a negative criticism, but it is actually something I consider harmless.

Let me put it into perspective: having now begun a couple of fantasy series here and there (of which I'm still in the process of completing), I consider myself a slightly more veteran reader of the fantasy genre. I've seen many of the staples and tropes that appear in most fantasies and have been exposed to the bland versus the iconic.

I've read Tolkein's The Hobbit through The Return of the King, I've read Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (still waiting on that last book). A Song of Ice and Fire was a more recent read, but Tolkein was the first. Here's the thing about Tolkein being my first experience with fantasy. I forced myself through all four books and felt so accomplished when I did (it was a hard read for me at the time...and sometimes to this day), but dropped reading fantasy all together until I started this blog. Don't get me wrong, Tolkien is obviously a genius (I won't bother going into further praise because it will take up my entire blog post).

It wasn't until this blog and my interest in reviewing books that I came across Morgan Rhodes' Falling Kingdom series (Book 5 of her series is literally next on this season's reading list). Rhodes' book reintroduced me to the fantasy genre with a "user friendly" grip of the hand. As a result of this hand-holding from one fantasy genre author, I gained the courage to go into the actual fantasy genre section of my bookstore and happen upon Peter V. Brett, author of The Warded Man (and the Demon Cycle series). Point is, my second "first" fantasy book encouraged me to explore the more complex stories anyone can find in the fantasy genre.

DWhich finally brings us to my praise towards this book. Denzel's book is a fantastic first read for anyone who is unfamiliar to the fantasy genre. The tropes we all know and love are present and ready to extend that "user friendly" hand for any beginner. While there are a few clichés he could have done without, there is plenty there brimming with its own potential.

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