The Guardian of Magic is the first entry in author Andrew Sharp’s Stone Magic Series. I’ll admit I had a fair amount of trepidation going into this one for a few reasons: the title is generic but the Amazon title line is absurdly overlong and descriptive, plus the cover is nigh identical to hordes of other fantasy novels plastered across Amazon’s self-published sections. Luckily, this time not judging the book by its cover paid off, as I was mostly pleasantly surprised by The Guardian of Magic— it’s quite far from perfect, but there are cool concepts and set pieces throughout.
The Guardian of Magic follows Beth, an unremarkable girl who, unlike everyone around her, lacks any magical ability whatsoever. Following a brief attempt at honest employment Beth is accused of a crime she didn’t commit and sent to prison, where her missing magic draws the attention of a powerful noblewoman, ensuring both her safety and her indenture. Thus begins Beth’s journey across strange new worlds in search of mystical stone formations that house secrets she alone can uncover.
The high point of the book is easily the imaginative worldbuilding throughout. The idea that people of different worlds interact with magic in vastly different ways is used well and helps flesh out the nature of those people. For example, the colonizing and aristocratic people of Beth’s homeworld use magic as an outwardly aggressive force employed mostly in combat, whereas the people inhabiting a jungle world engage with magic more naturalistically and primarily as a survival tool. The many settings are lushly detailed and diverse while still harkening to real-life locales and cultures, and there are tons of beasts and creatures roaming throughout. Some readers might want the worldbuilding to be presented a bit more directly than it is, but as someone who has read Steven Erikson’s Malazan books, I can appreciate being dropped into the middle of things and figuring them out as the story unfolds.
The Guardian of Magic is not without fault, however, especially in regards to overreliance on sexual violence. Be forewarned, there are disturbing scenes throughout, some of which involve children and all of which are vile. Sexual assault and trauma are commonly discussed in horror with varying results, its presence alone isn’t a detraction, but it felt at times as though the author could think of no more creative way to harm or endanger characters. This is largely because there is some element of rape or assault in three of the main characters’ stories, which could work if sexual trauma was addressed as a theme, but it mostly just serves to set up revenge subplots that could equally have been motivated by something else. If those heinous events had led to some introspection beyond the tired “revenge is hollow and fleeting” idea it might be a different story, but as is it didn’t feel like those scenes added much to the book beyond shock factor.
Truthfully, the entire revenge subtheme feels a little bit out of place because the main theme overshadows it. At its core, The Guardian of Magic has a lot to say about colonialism and industry destroying the natural world, and the author frames those ideas much more interestingly by first inserting the protagonist into the invading force. The starry-eyed wonder of exploring new lands and meeting native peoples gives way to the grimy truths of colonization in an organic way that shines thematically where the revenge plots don’t.
As a final note, the main character of the book is actually a refreshing subversion of the “chosen one” trope in fantasy. The fact that Beth’s uniqueness comes from being less powerful than everyone around her is novel on its own, but Sharp really goes the distance to hammer home just how ordinary Beth is. The character starts as a schlubby nobody with no discernible skills or talents to speak of, and a lot of her growth comes from the circumstances she’s placed in rather than being innately special. True, her lack of magic does eventually lead her to become an archetypal chosen one character, but this book makes that transformation feel earned rather than simply dropped on her.
7 out of 10 Seed Pistols