Title: The Warrior Heir
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genre: Contemporary/Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Hyperion/Disney (US)/Indigo (UK)
Publication Date: April 2006 (US)/September 2011 (UK)
Hardcover: 432 Pages
Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great—until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.
Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game—a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir.
As if his bizarre magical heritage isn’t enough, Jack finds out that he’s not just another member of Weirlind—he’s one of the last of the warriors—at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Heir series
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I love Cinda Williams Chima’s current high fantasy YA Seven Realms series, and had been eying her earlier works for a good long while. Last week, Ana and I had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Ms. Chima at BEA, and immediately following that dinner, I *knew* I had to get the Heir books. Immediately. So…I did.
What if someone told you – an ordinary, small town sixteen year old boy with a congenital heart condition – that you were actually a Warrior? One of the last of a special clan of magical people? That the medicine you had been taking since birth was, in fact, meant to suppress your magical abilities? That you would be hunted down, killed, or sold to the highest bidder in an ancient, twisted power struggle that would culminate in your entering an arena to fight to the death?
You’d probably be just a mystified, scared, and angry as Jack Swift. One day, Jack forgets to take his medicine and has the best soccer tryout of his life. Shortly after, his charismatic aunt Linda shows up at his mother’s home, asking for Jack to accompany her on a special genealogical road trip. The next thing he knows, Jack’s digging up artifacts from his great-grandmother’s grave, unearthing a powerful magical blade that only he can wield, and fighting off an immensely powerful and deadly wizard. Overnight, Jack becomes awakened to his power as a Warrior, and number one on the two Rose Houses’ most wanted list – and if they can’t possess him, play him for power, or breed him, they will kill him and everyone he loves.
The first novel from now-seasoned YA fantasy novelist Cinda Williams Chima, The Warrior Heir is a contemporary fantasy along the same vein as a slightly older Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Eragon. Jack Swift is a young boy that awakens to awesome, unknown powers, becomes aware of an entirely hidden world of magic that exists alongside his own, a dangerous family legacy, and – of course – incredible danger because of this new knowledge and power. As with those aforementioned male protagonists, Jack’s is a coming of age story as he grapples with magic and the danger he poses to those around him. While the trope is one that is well-worn in the fantasy realm (i.e. ordinary/orphaned young boy or girl awakens to discover magical abilities/a whole new world and faces grave mortal peril), it’s a trope that when done well is irresistible. In Ms. Chima’s case, the storytelling, worldbuilding, and rich backstory are what make The Warrior Heir stand apart and hold its own in a subgenre already overrun by powerful, good-hearted young teens with power at their fingertips.
The first thing to note about The Warrior Heir is that it is slightly older than those beloved heroes mentioned above – if not so much in age, certainly in content and in stakes. Jack’s story is one full of danger, and there is a palpable tension that runs throughout the book because there is no guarantee that Jack will survive the insurmountable odds stacked against him. The entire system of wizardry and the different orders of people that populate this magical world are fascinating and terrifyingly bleak, especially for a warrior (or anyone that is not a wizard). There are the enchanters, like Jack’s aunt Linda, who are desired because of their good looks and ability to entice emotions; there are sorcerers who create charms and spells through objects but are, as one character puts it, a “dime a dozen.” And then there are the wizards. As the ruling Weir, Wizards able to speak words of power and are limited only by their own knowledge…and they have created a hierarchy where they rule, unquestioned and unchallenged, gleefully killing all those who stand in their quest for power and dominance. Jack’s own class – the Warriors – are the rarest of all the Weir because of Wizard rule, as they are kidnapped or killed upon discovery, for fear that a rival Rose house might usurp power through a Warrior Champion in The Game (a tournament, in which Warriors are pitted against each other to fight to the death). Unlike the early Harry Potter books, or the Percy Jackson books, or any such young hero story, Jack’s tale is one that is fraught with true danger. Thematically, The Warrior Heir also opens up a host of provoking questions about the nature of laws – who makes them? And how easily can they be changed or broken?
Add to this hierarchy a richly imagined historical background (also featuring an interesting twist on the War of Roses), family histories, and a setting that spans small-town Trinity in rural Ohio, to the streets of London and the far north reaches of Cumberland along the Scottish border. I loved the grand scheme of time and locale, as Jack makes his way from the home he has always known to a new battlefield, with wizards and even a spectral army to face. These praises said, it’s a tough thing to reconcile a small-scale coming-of-age story with so much other stuff going on (histories, backstories, magical hierarchies, etc). Though Cinda Williams Chima manages to keep the story clipping along at an engrossing pace, replete with enough action to satisfy even the most reluctant of readers, there are some stumbles, particularly as the narrative switches to follow different characters (the evil Jessamine, for example, has a few appearances that aren’t really integral to the story).
Yet, despite some minor unevenness in the storytelling, the characters we are introduced to in this book are well-worth our time. I loved Jack as our intrepid protagonist, as he grapples with his need to talk about what is happening to him, but also with the responsibility that he must keep his friends and family safe. On top of all that, he’s also a young man that wants to have a normal life, and go to college, and fall in love (as he thinks to himself at one point in the story) – and that’s really endearing. Of course, my favorite characters were Ellen (the fiery, overachieving, soccer playing new girl), and Jack’s persuasive aunt Linda – but I also found myself loving the character of vice principal Lee Hastings, in all his intensity and shadowy motives. I loved the way his storyarc effectively ties the novel together, but I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers.
Overall, I highly enjoyed The Warrior Heir. Although there were a few stumbles and patches of unevenness along the way, this is a phenomenal debut novel and I can honestly say that Cinda Williams Chima is working her way up my favorite authors list. I still think I prefer her Seven Realms books, but cannot wait to read more! And the best part is that now, while I wait for the final novel in Han, Raisa, and Micah’s series, I’ll be getting my fix by working through the Heir books.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
CHAPTER 1–THE FLYING LOBECK
His mother’s voice cut into his dreams and he reluctantly opened his eyes. It was late, he could tell. The light had lost that early morning watercolor quality and streamed boldly through the window. He’d stayed up too late the night before, stargazing with Nick. It was the night of the new moon, and some of the key constellations hadn’t slid over the horizon until after midnight.
“Coming!” he shouted. “Almost ready!” he lied as his feet hit the wood floor. His jeans lay in a heap next to the bed where he’d stepped out of them the night before. He jerked them on, pulled a fresh tee shirt from the drawer, and threw a pair of socks over his shoulder.
Jack careened around the corner into the bathroom. No time for a shower. He washed his face, wet his fingers and ran them through his hair.
“Jack!” His mother’s voice had that final warning note.
Jack leaped down the back stairs and into the kitchen.
His mom had granola and orange juice waiting for him. She must have been distracted, because she had also poured him a cup of coffee. She’d left her muesli unfinished and was sorting through a stack of papers.
That was Becka. His mother was a woman of a thousand passions. Although she had a PhD in medieval literature and a law degree, she had difficulty managing the household economy: things like school schedules, lunch money, and getting the library books back on time. Jack had taken on the task of organizing both himself and his mother from an early age.
Becka looked at her watch and groaned. “I’ve got to get dressed! I’m supposed to be at a meeting in an hour.” She shoved a large blue bottle across the table towards him. “Don’t forget to take your medicine.” She thrust her papers into a large portfolio. “I’ll be at the library this morning and in court this afternoon.”
“Don’t forget I have soccer tryouts after school,” Jack said. “In case you get home first.” His mother was a worrier. She always said it was because he’d almost died when he was a baby. Personally, Jack thought such things were hard-wired. Some people always worried, others never did. He supposed his father fell into the latter category.
Maybe it was hard to worry from three states away.
“Soccer tryouts,” Becka repeated solemnly, as if to fix it in her mind. Then she raced up the stairs.
You can read the full first chapter (pdf) HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Book 2 in the Heir series (a companion novel) is titled The Wizard Heir, and I cannot wait to get my greedy paws on it:
Sixteen year old wizard Seph McCauley has spent the past 3 years bouncing from one exclusive private school to another. Orphaned as a baby, Seph was raised by Genevieve LeClerc, the sorcerer owner of a Toronto bed and breakfast. LeClerc tried to protect Seph from the treacherous world of wizardry by keeping him away from others of his kind.
But now LeClerc is dead, leaving Seph on his own and without the training he needs to control his growing power. He prowls the illegal clubs of Toronto’s warehouse district, plagued by magical accidents that are increasing in frequency and severity. Worse, he’s beginning to realize that the stories he’s been told about his parents’ life and death are fabrications—that the people he most trusted have been lying to him.
After causing a tragic fire at an after-hours party, Seph is sent to the Havens, a secluded boys’ school on the coast of Maine. At first, it seems like the answer to his prayers. Gregory Leicester, the headmaster, promises to train Seph in magic and enroll him in the mysterious order of wizards known as the Alumni. But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare as Seph learns there is a price to be paid for knowledge.
Everyone around him is keeping secrets: Jason Haley, a fellow student who’s been told to stay away from Seph; the enchanter Linda Downey, who knew his parents; the rogue wizard Leander Hastings, and the warriors Jack Swift and Ellen Stephenson. Seph finds himself at the center of a war that he may not survive.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
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