November 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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A School for Sorcery by E. Rose Sabin
Starscape / Tom Doherty PPBK: ISBN 0765342197 PubDate: 11/01/03
Review by
Pat Nash
318 pgs. List price $5.99
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Tria Tesserell is a 16 year old farm girl who, like Harry Potter, one momentous day receives a letter from the Headmistress of the Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted. She is invited, as a young lady “among the minority of the population of Arucadi who are Gifted with magical powers”, to join “the Community of the Gifted”. Her mother is also gifted, but her father is not, nor is he enthusiastic about spending good money on tuition. When Tria finally arrives, the school does not make a good impression on her – it’s dusty and run-down, and the food is on a par with most students’ impressions of their school cafeterias. It’s smaller than she expected. The lessons focus on logic and ethics, and not the wonders of the multiple magical dimensions. The teachers aren’t the god-like beings Tria expected: they have off days and badly fitting toupees and mundane sartorial and character flaws found in every other high school. The maid seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else. Tria inadvertently breaks a major rule about messing with time, which lands her in trouble but at least indicates that she can hold her own against the other students.

And what an interesting group they turn out to be! Her roommate, Lina, turns into a black panther in moments of stress. Another sees a boogie-man no one else can, at suspiciously convenient times. There’s a girl who carries a huge dagger as proof she’s passed her tribal initiation. There are all sorts of cabals and love-triangles among the coolest and most powerful of students. The coolest of all is the black-clad Oryon, and it is his explorations into the most dangerous magical realms drive the plot. Can Tria (and the rest of the school) survive long enough for her to graduate, and move up through the seven levels of consciousness?

Arucadia is an alternate-universe riff on the America of the early 1900’s. Trains are in common use, cars are just coming into production, and the normals are talking about building airplanes. The theological underpinning of the society is polytheistic and the magic has sufficient internal consistency to allow willing suspension of disbelief, and even to anticipate plot developments. There is real danger to the characters, and unexpected perils and rescues.

E. Rose Sabin has written an interesting book about a school for budding sorcerers, and though there are inevitable parallels with Hogwarts, A School for Sorcery stands very much on it's own merits. It doesn’t have the ‘feel’ of the Harry Potter series, and reminds me more of the Tamora Pierce novels in tone. Ms. Sabin’s choice of setting is felicitous – far enough into the past to remove it from a too-rational present, familiar enough to remind the reader of once-contemporary stories such as Dracula and the Narnia series, and close enough to the present to avoid the possibly cliché Renaissance and Medieval setting. It is an enjoyable story for the teen who is looking to move up from children’s fiction.

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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