Rise of the Mages by first-time author Scott Drakeford is an epic fantasy story in the tradition of The Belgariad that will directly appeal to those who love the classic fantasy of that era. It is a combination of political machinations coupled with a quest for vengeance with found family vibes. All of this is nestled comfortably in a fascinating magic system based on infusori. Infusori is the electromagnetic energy and soul of everything around us. Practitioners can tap into this power and harness it for anything from tinkering to crumbling walls and battle magic.
The story starts with two brothers, Emrael and Ban. Two young men who are nationless refugees of a now-defunct royal bloodline. Emrael is working to keep his brother in materials used for tinkering and to further his crafting skill with infusori. At the same time, Emrael is learning daily to become a master warrior and political commander at training school. This training will allow the brothers to make something of themselves, and they would no longer have to rely on their mother for Ban’s support. No matter the two brothers’ work, they are constantly regarded as lesser by their peers, save for Ban’s best friend, Elle.
Due to the political machinations of the existing nations and the church’s influence, Governor Corrande, the governor of the state that Emrael’s school is located in, brokers a deal with the church to enslave users of infusori to build machines that will give him an edge in an upcoming war for territory. Corrande is setting himself up to consolidate the existing domains under his authority. Emrael and Ban, due both to their ability to use infusori and their political connections, get stuck in the middle of this war.
The crux of the story happens when Emrael and Ban attempt to flee the Citadel, the school they train at, and Ban is captured. Elle, Ban’s teacher, and Emrael’s master and trainer Jaina barely escape with their lives. The extremely close brothers are separated by the direst of circumstances. This separation sets Emrael on a quest for revenge on those who captured and enslaved Ban, and Emrael will burn the world to ashes before abandoning his brother.
There is a strong power in this familial bond between the brothers, especially in Emrael and how he relates to Ban. Ban is the younger brother, and while competent and a man in his own right, Emrael takes care of him as an older brother should. This helps drive the narrative of why Emrael will stop at nothing to save his brother. I think had the reverse happened; Ban would do the same. Although due to the story’s structure, we learn and get to know Emrael a lot more than we do Ban. I am hoping in the second and third parts of this trilogy, we will get to know Ban a lot more and learn what drives him.
In Rise of the Mages, behind the story of Emrael and his quest to become a warrior or Ban’s quest to learn to tinker and create are strong female characters. In the periphery, but no less important is the boy’s mother, who is more than she claims. But at this junction, we only know fragments and pieces of her story.
Jaina, Emrael’s master, is a warrior and one of the best fighters that the world has ever seen. Instead of slipping into convention, Drakeford gives her added depth by making her devoutly religious to the Ordenan religion. It is a beautiful contrast that she is not all hard planes but a soul beyond fierce battle. And finally, we have Ban’s best friend Elle, who is powerful also but very different from the brothers. While the narrative is always about Emrael, I couldn’t help but wonder about Elle in the backdrop of his extraordinary quest. Elle is in the background experiencing moments that bifurcate her life into the before and after. She is not the same character at the end that started the story.
I am thoroughly impressed by this story. I know that this story took ten years to craft and was a labor of love for all involved. With its rounded characters and exciting action sequences, you can tell this will have a gigantic appeal to lovers of classic fantasy stories. Author Scott Drakeford just stepped into the publishing world of SFF and slammed his ax down.
I am very much looking forward to the next book, so I may dive back into the world of Ire and watch the brothers come into their power.