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Nathan’s review of Way of the Wizard by Michael Michel

The tl;dr: Way of the Wizard is a fast-paced and chaotic epic fantasy with storming monsters, chaotic magical battles, and a young man’s quest to be a wizard. This is a tightly plotted, magic-packed, and thrilling adventure ride that I never wanted to get off. Told using first-person POV, the young main protagonist never feels gratingly “teenager”, and allows the book to be a perfectly dark YA/adult crossover adventure. The magic is cool, the battles are cinematic, and the writing is snappy, with Michel’s signature cleverness and moral ambiguity.

Cover of Way of the Wizard

 

My full review:

After storming the indie fantasy world with the epic and dark The Price of Power, Michael Michel switches gears with The Way of the Wizard – a book that is still dark, but a shorter and zanier ride with storming monsters, chaotic magical battles, and a young man’s quest to be a wizard. This is a tightly plotted, magic-packed, and thrilling adventure ride that I never wanted to get off.

The Way of the Wizard follows El, a teenager who lives in a horrifying world where, due to illness, warfare, and more, very few people live long. After his/her/their* mother dies, they decide to embark on a quest to become a wizard. They join a group of magical trainees called the “Seekers” and must now do the seemingly impossible – kill another wizard to claim their power.

*El’s gender is never discussed or made clear in the book. I hesitate to call El “nonbinary” because that is never established, but rather Michel has left it up to the reader to define El’s gender for themselves.

The Way of the Wizard is told in a single, first-person POV of our main character. At first glance, this might seem like a big turnoff from this book – do you want to really spend so much time in the head of a teenager? Coming-of-age narratives with annoyingly idiotic young people are a dime a dozen in epic fantasy, so I can understand the hesitation (I had this hesitation too!). I can assuage any fears and ensure that Michel avoids all of the common trappings of the “young protagonist”. While El feels like a young person, and not just a thirty year old in a teenage body, they aren’t irritating or grating. Part of this is because Michel’s world is so dark; El has had to grow up in a world where a lot of people die young and this has matured them quickly. They retain some of those “headstrong” tendancies of the young, but strives to make intelligent and logical choices while on a journey with other older characters to seem to lack logic.

Because readers are in the head of a young man, the book can sometimes have the veneer of being a YA fantasy. Any YA feelings are merely superficial, because this book is quite dark. I find this a perfect crossover book for both audiences seeking YA and adult fantasy – it revels in both “genres” (are those genres?), subverting and eschewing the tropes of both adult epic fantasy and the YA coming of age narrative. If you are normally averse to YA, The Way of the Wizard has enough depth to keep you engaged and locked in, while the darkness isn’t so grimdark that it will scare off younger readers. Michel maintains quite the delicate balance, which allows Michel to flex his grimdark muscles (that were only full display in The Price of Power) while also maintaing the fun of epic fantasy.

The Way of the Wizard truly is some of the most fun I’ve had with an epic/high fantasy book in a while because it was just so freaking cool. The wizard battles jump to life of the page, and Michel isn’t afraid his magic to actually be magical. From magical spells to summoning monsters, there are some cinematic scenes in this book that I never wanted to end. Michel is truly in his element here, and The Way of the Wizard is the slightly chaotic, boistorous younger sibling to The Price of Power’s moodier, more methodically constructed nature. While The Price of Power is measured in every beat that it hits, with multiple, intersecting storylines and a huge world, Teh Way of the Wizards zips and zags with abandon – and I cannot help but wonder if (despite how much I loved The Price of Power!) if this shorter and snappier kind of writing is really where Michel’s talents lie. I was never not engaged while reading this book, and I could feel Michel’s eyes light up as he was writing every cool scene, including the emergence of the four armed behemoth from the cover image.

What I also loved about this book is the way that Michel complicated the nature of good and evil without descending into full-on grimdark nihilism. El’s wizard mentor is not good…but also not completely bad either? The entire magic-system is built on needing to take another wizard’s top-knot (mostly through killing them) in order to take on their power. This automatically brings murkiness into all of the proceedings, as our “good guy” El needs to try and justify these kinds of actions. Michel delicately pushes El into morally grey waters without ever making him unlikeable or unpleasant – no easy task!

In sum, The Way of the Wizard is a very different book from The Price of Power, and will likely be seen as the “little brother” because of how we tend to value longer, darker, and more complex works as being more “prestigous” and worthy of our time. I urge readers to check out The Way of the Wizard because this book is so much fun and the pages fly by without even realizing it. The Way of the Wizard also ends on a frusting (in a fun way!) cliffhanger that will definitely keep you awaiting the next book!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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