Title Gift of the Unmage – Worldweavers Book 1
Author: Alma Alexander
Genre: YA (Fantasy)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publishing Date: March 2007
Hardcover: 400 Pages
How did we get this book: Ana bought her copy. Thea received a review copy from the author.
Why did we read this book: Well, on a shallow note, the main character’s name is Thea – and that’s a true rarity (Thea’s note: I’ve met maybe two other “Theas” in my lifetime, and have read maybe three characters with this name – all of whom have been side characters or villains)! But on a more serious note, we’ve heard nothing but good things about this series, and when the author generously offered us with review copies of her book, we knew it was finally time to dive into the Worldweavers series.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
“When there is a battle to be fought, it is you who can choose the place of the battlefield.” Thus says Cheveyo: mage, teacher, and the first person in Thea’s life to remain unimpressed by her lineage. From birth, great things were expected of Thea, but her magical abilities are, at most, minimal. Now, with Cheveyo, Thea has begun to weave herself a new magical identity, infused with elements of the original worlds.
Back in her everyday life, she attends the Wandless Academy, the one school on Earth for those who, like her, can’t do magic. It is at the Academy that Thea realizes she will indeed have to fight, since her enemies are hungrier and more dangerous than she thought. Fortunately, her greatest strength may be the very powerlessness she has resisted for so long…
Thea: Gift of the Unmage is not at all what I was expecting – and I mean this in the best possible way. In a sea of young adult fantasy literature that often follows the same pattern, Alma Alexander’s first novel in the Worldweavers series is undeniably unique. It stands out. It’s different. And, I have to say, I really liked the change of pace. Much of this book is internalized, taking place in an alternate dimension as a sort of spirit journey – young Thea travels to Anasazi land, sent by her disappointed family in a last ditch effort to try and dislodge whatever block is keeping her from using her magical powers. A good majority of the book takes place in this strange Anasazi landscape, as Thea discovers exactly who she is – and this is a risky move, especially from a writing standpoint. This is not a straightforward book. In fact, all of the magic in this book is of the surreal variety – vision quests, spirit moons, weaving songs into light, animal guides, etc. And…it’s really, really cool. I loved it.
Ana I came to read this book with the burden of Great Expectations. Not only had I read several positive reviews but I was also in the middle of a reading low after reading two books (one of them a YA novel full of clichés) that I did not like and was hoping for a book to get me out of my reading funk. I thought I should mention this, from the shadow of unreasonable (and possibly unfair) expectations, before I say that I liked the book but it did not wow me. Despite the uniqueness – the book is certainly different, there is no denying it – I felt oddly detached from the story. Whilst Thea is a sympathetic character and I definitely liked the magical aspects of the story those were not enough to make this one a keeper for me. It did take me one step away from the reading low, so I guess that is a good thing.
On the Plot:
In a world where magic is commonplace, Galathea Georgiana is a Double Seventh – the seventh child born of two seventh children. This union is incredibly rare, and as such Thea’s magical powers should be immense and important, but at fourteen years old, Thea has yet to show even the slightest manifestation of magic. Every day she goes to school, and cannot complete even the simplest of spells, and it takes its toll on Thea and her family. Though her ambitious parents love her, they cannot mask their disappointment in Thea’s lack of progress. In a last-ditch effort to awaken Thea’s presumed dormant powers, her father takes a risk and sends her to a different land, a different time, entirely – using a portal, Thea is transported to a strange desert landscape, with a single, quiet man to guide her. Cheveyo, an Anasazi Indian, takes Thea into his keeping as she learns about what questions she needs to ask, how to discover herself, and how to make peace with who she is. There IS something important about Thea, and with an dangerous force amassing on the horizon, Thea must keep her new knowledge very secret.
When Thea leaves the reservation, transformed by the knowledge she now carries with her, she calmly tells her parents that she needs to be sent to the Wandless Academy – the place where the non-magical young go to learn some other skills to help them with their lives. Thea makes new friends at the academy and begins to fit in, for the first time in her life. But the battle has only begun, when a dark and ominous force threatens not only the magical folk outside the warded Academy walls, but the lives of everyone in Thea’s world.
Thea: As I’ve said above, Gift of the Unmage is a very strange, very different type of book – this applies to the plotting and writing of this book in particular. Gift of the Unmage is a surreal trip, spanning different dimensions, different worlds, and strange magics. Ms. Alexander uses some familiar tropes in the YA fantasy genre – there’s the familiar Academy setting, along with the prevalence of magic in the society she has created. And at the same time, Ms. Alexander manages to turn these tropes upside down, and puts a fresh spin on them. Thea’s Academy isn’t Hogwarts or a school for the exceptionally gifted; in fact, it’s the complete opposite, as Thea once calls it “The Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent.” The magic in Thea’s world – or worlds, rather – blends the familiar Harry Potter variety of enchanted sweets and wands and wizardry with an entirely different pantheon of sorcery, with Native American spirit and animal magic. And I think this is what I loved the most about Ms. Alexander’s book – the different, coexisting variations of magic, and the notion that magic that works in one world may not in another.
Ms. Alexander’s descriptions of magic include a wise woman older than the earth, who can change into a spider, the dreaded Alphiri (what we would recognize as Elves – but with malicious, cold calculating intents), stars that take the form of human bodies, and an Elk spirit that encompasses all of his kind. There are many strange scenes in this book as Thea learns her magic, and how different magic may be in different worlds, and it’s almost impossible to relate these all in a review. Suffice to say that Ms. Alexander has an eye for the strange and different, and she manages to weave these threads into her novel with such skill that even the most surreal and impossible scenes seem perfectly natural. I’m not certain all readers, or young readers as a target audience, will like her Dali-esque descriptions…but I certainly did.
In terms of plotting, Gift of the Unmage goes against the grain as well, starting slowly and picking only very near the end of the novel. While this pacing might unnerve or annoy some readers, I didn’t mind it at all. I liked the slower, more introspective pace of the book, and there’s danger aplenty as the book finishes (though I do wish there was a little more time spent on the growing friendships between Thea and her friends at the Academy). Still, there are discoveries and darkness aplenty by the end of Gift of the Unmage, and it’s clear Thea has quite an adventure ahead of her.
Ana: It is the strangest sentiment when one is perfectly capable of seeing why a book should be good, from an objective point of view and yet being unable to connect with it. I agree with basically everything that Thea says: from the subversion of the familiar Academy setting to the inclusion of a different magic system. From the type of magic that Thea is able to perform to the surreal quality that it has. It is all very interesting and worthy of praise especially when it brings something new to the genre. But I have to admit I say that with the most dispassionate frame of mind. Because if Worldweavers was able to engage my intellect it sort of failed to engage my feelings for the most part.
I will put that down to the pacing. And this is where things get really weird, because I disagree with Thea’s assertion that there is a slower pace to this novel. I have to agree with the introspecting feeling but I actually felt that the book went too fast and things happened too soon. The pacing of Thea’s (the character) self-discovery was too fast for me. In too short a time the character went from being at the bottom scale of magic to being too important – more important even than anyone could expect. Although, in theory, I have no problem with the above per se, I do have a problem when it miraculously happens in only a few moons. I think the novel would have benefited from a slower pacing. As it stands, too much happens for a single book that takes place in a couple of months.
On the Characters:
Thea: This really is Thea’s book – as most of the novel takes place in a strange world where Thea is mostly on her own, readers get to know her thoughts and feelings intimately. This is a character that grows and changes over the course of the novel in a very big, admirable way. When I started Gift of the Unmage, I felt sympathy towards the young protagonist, but irritation as well. Initially whiny (though with good reason, considering her parents’ transparent disappointment in her) and overly inquisitive, the Thea that first joins Cheveyo in Anasazi land isn’t exactly the easiest character to like. But, gradually as we become more acquainted with Thea’s thoughts, her fears and her insecurities, she becomes an endearing character. So desperate to initially show her father that she isn’t a failure, Thea’s gradual revelation that she’s anything but useless is masterfully done, and I loved the transformation of her character as she gradually grows up. This is a heroine that I can get behind, and as she reaches out and makes new friends at the Academy, Thea became a character I could not wait to read more from.
The other main characters were well written, if not in the spotlight as much as Thea, but I enjoyed and connected with them nonetheless. I loved Cheveyo’s quiet, solemn, and wise personality – instead of losing his temper with young Thea (which could have been pretty easy), he mentors in a close-lipped way that infuriates Thea, and makes for a fun dynamic. Of course, then there’s Grandmother Spider – an ancient and yet ageless woman who helps Thea, and she is delightful with her loving attitude and wisdom. The other two standouts for me were Thea’s Aunt Zoe, with her peculiar magical abilities (contradictory sensory perceptions – i.e. she “sees” the colors of the wind, and “smells” emotions), and the trickster Corey.
My only gripe with the characters was how little time was spent at the Academy and on Thea forming friendships with her peers. We got glimpses of wonderful characters – Magpie, in particular is a favorite – but it left me wanting more. Of course, as there are two more books in the series, I’m sure these characters will be explored in further depth!
Ana I really liked Thea but unlike Thea (my Thea – this has got to be the most confusing review I have ever written) , I felt sympathy forher at the start and irritated with her as we went along. To start with, I felt for Thea. For all the pressure and expectation her family, and the world even, had for her as the Double Seventh; I could feel her frustration and her despair for not living up to it all, for not being able to do anything magical; for living in a family who was pure magic (including all her 6 older brothers). It wasn’t easy for her. There was one particular point where I was almost moved to tears and she was recalled the look in her father’s eye: a look that was part hope part frustration. All the time. So, yes, I sympathised.
What irritated me was how fast she came to the conclusion that she was nothing but useless and how comfortable she was with the new reality. I am struggling to make myself understood because I fear I would spoil too much but I just wish to make clear, that I have nothing against empowered characters per se. It is just when they go from one end of the spectrum to the other so easily that I have to stop and wonder.
I agree with Thea though when it comes to the other kids at school. I love how all of them were there because for example, they were allergic to magic (literally allergic: sneezing and everything) and I wished more time was spent developing their relationship, that was another thing that was too much too soon.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: Gift of the Unmage was a surprising, enchanting read. I loved it, and I cannot wait to read Spellspam soon!
Ana: Worldweavers has an interesting, different premise. Unfortunately the execution left me underwhelmed. Unless Thea tells me I MUST not miss them, I don’t think I will be picking up the other books in the series any time soon
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From author Alma Alexander’s website:
Cheveyo pointed to what looked like a vertical cliff rearing squarely in their path and said, “Climb.”
“Climb? That? How?” Thea gasped after a moment of stunned silence, craning her neck to where the edge of the towering mesa seemed to split the sky. “I can’t crawl up sheer rock walls like a spider!”
Cheveyo seemed to find something about that remark amusing, because there was a flash of a smile in his dark eyes. But he chose not to respond directly. Instead, he merely pointed to what seemed to be no more than a small indentation in the rock. Taking a closer look, Thea suddenly saw something she had failed to notice before. What she had thought of as a tiny hole in the rock had another just like it a little way above it. And then another.
It was a toehold. This was a ladder.
Thea looked up at the cliff face again. “Oh, my stars,” she said in a small voice.
She glanced at Cheveyo but he, other than folding his arms across his chest in a manner that suggested that he’d wait as long as necessary, merely inclined his head at her.
“Did your people make this?” she asked.
“And climbed it,” he said tranquilly, “with water gourds on their heads when it was the dry season. You carry nothing except yourself. Climb.”
Thea drew a deep breath and tucked her sandaled toe into the first indentation, feeling for the matching hand hold above her. It was lower than she thought it would be; she knew a moment of panic as her fingernails scrabbled on bare rock, but then they slipped into their niche. Thea hung her weight from her fingers, lifted her other foot, found a toehold, and inched upwards with exquisite care.
“There is a tree at the top of the mesa,” Cheveyo called out to her as she climbed. “Wait there until you are summoned.”
Thea paused, shifted her grip a little. “But how will I know who…? When is…?”
Cheveyo heaved a deep sigh. “Catori,” he said, “if there is one thing you should have learned by now it’s that your questions almost always answer themselves. Go up, find your tree, sit. Wait.” And then added, cryptically, “Kill nothing up there.”
She had had little choice. She squared her jaw, straightened her body, lifted her eyes, sought the next hand hold. She did not look down again until she was pulling herself up, breathing hard, over the edge of the mesa.
Cheveyo had gone.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Thea: 7 – Very Good
Ana: 5 Meh.
Reading Next: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson