Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I kept going back and forth between 2 stars and 3. I’d probably consider it 2.5 stars, but that’s not an option and I felt like giving the book the benefit of the doubt. I purchased the book as part of one of the first book-related bundles I ever bought. (I *think* from Storybundle) This wasn’t the book that made me buy it.
When I looked around on Goodreads, there doesn’t appear to be an Arcanum 202 or other such direct sequel. It looks like the author has a few books in the same universe, but not direct sequels to this one. (According to Goodreads, this is the series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/4048…) The reason I mention this is that this story does not flow like a traditional story. It’s a metric ton of world-building and nearly no story. The antagonist, to the extent that one exists, is presented and dealt with in the final couple chapters. That’s what pushed this book more towards 2 stars for me. It’s essentially a personal growth story, but I feel that’s probably the weakest part of the book.
Switching gears for a moment, the best thing about the book is that Ms Lackey does a pretty good job depicting teens. I wouldn’t say it’s stellar or the best characterization I’ve ever read. But the kids seem to react pretty realistically to teen power dynamics and hormones without falling into too many cliches.
Our main character, Tomas, was a little annoying to me in the way he interacted with others. Granted, my friends and family are a very small sample size, but as someone who is also bilingual, I found the way he spoke to people odd. So, in South Florida, sure we did a lot of code switching, that is we’d mix English and Spanish in one sentence. But only in cases where everyone there was also bilingual. Tomas, on the other hand, is constantly using Spanish with people who have given no indication they speak any Spanish. Maybe, given he’s from Texas, that’s how people speak there, but it just struck me as odd. The random Spanish in his inner monologue – sure, that scans. But I wouldn’t just randomly call someone in Maryland (where I live now) “chica”, even though that’s a word most people have been exposed to. It just seemed weird.
One last bit of a misuse of Chekov’s gun, in my opinion. At once point in the story Tomas is working for a pretty bad element and It’s suggested that his disobedience will lead to consequences with his family. This is dropped as soon as our character ends up in the X-Men-like school that is the story’s main location. Frankly, I kept expecting this to be a big growth point. I thought they’d go after his family and he’d have to have a personal growth moment where he realized he shouldn’t kill people with his powers or something.
So, if you like world-building and fantasy, it’s a pretty quick read. Despite what the read length says up there, I only read it for about 10-15 minutes at a time five days a week, and it only took me a couple weeks once I really got into it consistently. Just don’t go into it expecting a traditional story.