Title: The Sentinel Mage
Author: Emily Gee
Series: Cursed Kingdoms #1
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
From Goodreads: Her magic may be the only thing that can save a prince—and the Seven Kingdoms. In a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld of Osgaard, a prince with mage’s blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head—and assassins at his heels. Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld’s side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him. But the deserts of Masse are more dangerous than the assassins hunting the prince. The curse has woken deadly creatures, and the magic Prince Harkeld loathes may be the only thing standing between him and death.
When I saw this book months ago, I was really excited and intrigued by the premise. So much so that I requested a review copy and was kindly sent one by the publisher. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations, however, I do believe I have gained an interest in Emily Gee as an author.
One of the reasons I had trouble with the book is that it is very long while not having much in the way of action. There's a lot of traveling and repetition in actions by the characters, such as the shapeshifters changing back and forth as the armsman. You see, the Prince loathes mages and ironically must be protected by them. Instead of the mages forcing him to get over his prejudice, they decide to break one of their laws and take the shape of a man. One of the mages charged with this task is Innis because she can stay shifted for long periods of time. On the one hand this seems interesting, but on the other, why? Why go through all that trouble? I just wanted someone to say to the Prince, "get over it!"
I also had problems with the magic. I like to have a lot of magic but only if I can believe it. In this story, mages have special abilities usually ranging from shapeshifting to healing to fire spells. I found that the magic was interesting but I couldn't grasp the cost. Mages are constantly shapeshifting to animals without any apparent harsh effects. Also, people will get seriously injured and a mage will come along and cure them fully. I started to lose the sense of danger quite easily.
Another reason I had trouble is that the story itself lacks the spark I like in my epic fantasy. That spark could have been the conflict of Innis shifting into a man and then falling for the Prince and having to explain everything, but I just didn't get into it as I would have liked. What didn't help was that the prince wasn't very likable. For hundreds of pages he would look at a mage in disgust or perform another childish act of hatred. Innis was more likable but I often found myself frustrated over her passive and naive nature.
On the other hand, the thing I enjoyed most about this book was Gee's writing. It's very direct and concise but also satisfying. I found myself able to consume so much of it in a short period of time. It has an immediacy that encourages you to go forward, even if the story itself isn't doing it for you.
Overall, I would only recommend this book to someone who is particularly interested in this premise. The Sentinel Mage is part one of a planned trilogy.
A review copy was provided by Solaris.