I've read this book from Dan Michaelson and D.K. Holmberg, as an advanced reader's copy, in exchange for an honest and open review.
The book focuses on Sam, an elder brother to a magically gifted sister, living as orphans in the ruins of a border city after a recent invasion and annexation by a neighboring power. As both Sam and his sister are youths with no social resources and limited skills in an impoverished occupied state, Sam is deperate for a chance to get an opportunity in a gainful occupation. In a chance encounter puts Sam at the mercy of a master of the arcane arts who brings Sam to a magic academy to help investigate an accident or attack on the Alchemists portion of the school. Sam negotiated the entry of his magically gifted sister into the academy, while he posed as a student to discover the secrets of the incident in the Alchemy section.
The book fully engaged my attention throughout. The book is reminiscent of the Harry Potter series as well as the recent book A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Both series feature underdog youth literally fighting with their lives for their education. For Sam, in this book, he faced loss of a golden opportunity for himself and his sister both, so the stakes are even greater in this book. The book, according to Amazon, is the first in a two book series, which I can see turning into a larger series if there is interest, as this book only covers the first year of school. I can also see how this could spawn another series, following Sam into young adulthood.
The book offers a compelling cast of characters. It is unclear if there will be an academy map, city map, or country map in the book, but I think it would benefit from all three. There are descriptions of elements of the academy and city, but I'm sure more detail will be forthcoming in future books.
The book speaks about significant protest and unrest in the city, taking place in the background. This should not prove to be an emotional trigger for a sensitive reader, but if there is concern about this, previewing the book before sharing it with a younger reader may be appropriate. The book does speak about romantic relationships in pretty benign, general terms, raising no issues with sexual content. I recall no cursing or use of foul language, so if any is present, it is very limited in nature and scope. While there are violent altercations, the detail is very limited and appropriate to the plot, with no graphic or gratuitous use of violence or glorification of violent action.
This is a book I can see myself reading with an interested child, foster child, grandchild, etc. This is a classic Young Adult offering that can be fully enjoyed by adult readers with interest in Fantasy/Science Fiction. I will purchase this when it is available in print.