Book Review: “The Wizard Heir” by Cinda Williams Chima

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The Wizard Heir
by Cinda Williams Chima

If you have read the first book in this trilogy, The Warrior Heir – which I highly recommend – you will already know a few things as you begin this second book. You will know, for example, that the Weir are folks who are born with a magical stone inside them, a stone that gives them certain powers, depending on whether they are sorcerers, seers, enchanters, or warriors. The Anaweir, like the Muggles of Harry Potterdom, are everybody else – and they don’t even know that such people exist.

The most powerful of the weirlind are the wizards, who for hundreds of years have ruled over the Anawizard Weir (enchanters, warriors, etc.) as masters over slaves. The wizards are strong, but their strength is divided by mutual enmity. Two main parties, the White Rose and the Red Rose, have been in conflict for many generations. The result has been a perpetual wrangling for power over all the magic in the world, and innocent people are often caught in the crossfire.

Joseph McCauley – Seph to his friends – seems innocent enough. He doesn’t know who his real parents were. Raised by a foster-mother with a sorcerer’s knack for material-magic, he has only the sketchiest possible notions of the world of weir or his place in it. He has the power of a wizard, but after spending his childhood trying to suppress it, he finds it blazing out of his control. Little accidents – and not-so-little ones – keep him moving from one private school to another. Finally, it seems that only one place will take him. It isn’t exactly St. Brutus’ Secure School for Incurably Criminal Boys, but it’s close to it.

Actually, the Havens is much worse. It takes in students that other schools can’t control, and straightens them out double-quick. But the way it does this isn’t very nice. The headmaster, Dr. Gregory Leicester – pronounced like “Lester,” for all you non-Brits out there – applies appalling methods to break the hard cases. Methods like sending them terrifying nightmares until they bend to his will. And occasionally, methods like murder.

A few of Leicester’s students and alumni are special. Endowed with wizard powers, they receive special training and privileges. They live in their own building, follow their own course of study, and serve as Leicester’s small, private army of muscle and magic. Some of them aren’t so willing, however. It seems Leicester has a power over them that goes beyond nightmares. Such a power, indeed, that once they join him, they can only escape by death. He drinks their powers as a vampire drains blood from his victims; and if he dies, they die.

Now wizards don’t bat an eye over enslaving other folk, but enslaving other wizards is beyond bounds even for them. If Seph could get word out on what Leicester is doing, the big meanie would be in deep trouble. But Seph can’t get word out. He can’t escape. And it is only a matter of time before Leicester wears down his resistance and forces Seph to join him.

A major part of this book is a grim account of the pressure Leicester puts on Seph, and his gradual but inevitable loss of hope. Then, suddenly, in one of the most suspenseful scenes young-adult fantasy has ever known, the tables are turned and Seph begins a new and even more exciting adventure.

The threat of Leicester and his Alumni is not yet entirely behind Seph. They are coming for him, and the safe refuge of Trinity, Ohio can’t shield him from them forever. Even with new friends and a taste of romantic love, Seph’s danger is not yet over. For no sooner does he learn who his parents are than he must risk everything to save them, together with all his new friends – save them from Leicester’s final plan. For an upcoming Council could change the balance of power among the weir forever, either to make things better for everyone, or to make them unimaginably worse. Guess which way Leicester plans to steer things.

Though this trilogy is her first foray into YA novels, and though second novels (in or out of a trilogy) can often be a let-down after a promising start, Chima continues to weave a tight, strong fantasy, and she doesn’t drop a thread. She has crafted a fresh, compelling fantasy world and stocked it with fascinating characters, powerful conflicts, bizarre dangers, creepy forebodings, loves and hates and pities and surprises galore. Once you start reading The Warrior Heir, it’s almost certain that you will read this book as well. And once you read The Wizard Heir, the concluding book of the trilogy, titled The Dragon Heir, will surely be on your to-do list.