Exciting but predictable

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am

Do we need another novel about an orphaned boy in a land controlled by magic with a nasty villain snapping at his heels? N. M. Browne thinks we do, and she works hard to give The Spellgrinder's Apprentice a fresh and original feel.

The result is an undemanding fantasy read that entertains but doesn't leave any lasting impression because, for the most part, we have all been there before.

The story is set in one of those convenient fictional lands where the inhabitants have odd names and a magic force is holding things together.

Tommo, our orphan hero, escapes from a terrible underground workshop where his job is to grind spellstones, mysterious pieces of rock that can be used to unleash untold magical power.

Apprentices like Tommo rarely live long enough to see a life outside the cellar where they work. Most of them die young from the quivers, a killer disease caught from the dust of the spellstones. This dust turns their skin blue and their hair silver, and eventually kills its victims.

Tommo knows that he is probably dying and so he figures he has nothing to lose if he makes a run for it. When we first meet Tommo, he is running for his life. Just as he is about to give up his bid for freedom, he meets Akenna, the tough daughter of a fisherman who is on the run from her abusive father. The two of them reluctantly team up and hard-hitting Akenna gives Tommo much needed strength to carry on his run to freedom.

But there is someone in the shadows determined that Tommo will die. The young spellgrinder's apprentice is a threat to the very highest powers in the land and must be eliminated.

Enter the villain. Protector Fallon is holding onto power by a whisker. He believes that Tommo possesses magical skills that are a threat to his rule. The boy must be caught at all costs because Fallon is desperate to learn what Tommo knows and how this knowledge is going to be used against him. A chase to the death begins.

Tommo and Akenna are led to Fallon's castle by a flock of mysterious birds. Tommo somehow manages to release Vevena, Fallon's wife, from a spell that has kept her prisoner in a marriage that she despises. She encourages the two teenagers to fight her husband.

Only they have the power to free their land from a cruel tyrant, and gain freedom.

The Spellgrinder's Apprentice

By N. M. Browne

Published by Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 0 7475 79250