Seventeen year old Adelaide Auctor doesn’t think there’s anything special about her life. But when her mother is killed, and her estranged father turns out to be her murderer, Addie’s whole life is turned upside down. Her brother, her closest confidant, has been keeping secrets from her all their lives. Addie discovers that she was intentionally hidden from her father, Donovan Hawthorne, because of an ancient magical feud between their two families. To keep her safe, she and her brother Augustus are to be sent to a school for the children of magical families, called the Wicked Cabal. But this is no ordinary school, and Initiation alone, with magical beasts, mysterious clues, and miles-high mountains, might just be the toughest challenge Addie has ever encountered.
The cast is strong, and each person has a very distinct personality. The five in Addie’s Initiation group – Maddox, Liam, Fallon, Tempe, and Addie herself – are so well drawn, and I bonded with them so strongly that I actually felt a bit put out when the other six candidates rejoined the narrative, as if they were invading this very familiar group and changing the dynamics. Addie is not instantly likeable, but who would be just after a close bereavement, and when her life turns out to be full of secrets? I loved watching her become more independent and mature as she worked out her identity as separate from her brother, as she’s always sheltered behind him. There’s a real treatment of her grief, and the conflict she feels between her love for her family and her realisation of exactly how many secrets Augustus has been keeping from her. And I didn’t feel that the eventual romance overshadowed that until one moment near the end. And this might be a teensy spoiler, but speaking of the romance, it was so great that her new friends immediately supported her relationship with Maddox, even against evidence of parental disapproval. For me it really set The Auctor Trilogy apart from a lot of other fantasy YA in terms of romance subplots – Tempe in particular is especially supportive!
The environment that the Initiates find themselves in is complex and vividly drawn – it’s a physically difficult challenge as well as requiring magical skill and teamwork. There wasn’t a lot of magical healing (though Maddox has definitely got some kind of secret going on), so the characters had to suffer the consequences of injuries and mistakes – and they got injured a lot!
Initiation is not what I expected. I thought it would be your regular structural entry challenge, with a couple of tasks or contests, some rivalry, and the whole thing rather taking a backseat to romantic intentions. What I got was a real, significant three-week long challenge that tested the Initiates’ resolve and even threatened their lives. It was a refreshing take on the ‘chosen one’ narrative. At the end of this book, there are still a lot of unanswered questions – this is very much an origins story, with Addie being flung into a world full of family secrets and strange magic, and she’s only beginning to unravel it all.
There’s a blind man with “crippled hands” in the prologue, but I wouldn’t exactly call it representation because, and I quote, he “was capable of walking without any assistance from another person and had even developed a system to read the books that everyone else could read”. The only disadvantage of his disability is apparently that “it gave his eyes a glazed expression which many found disconcerting.”
The only other diverse representation I spotted was one of the Initiates having “creamy deep olive skin”, and she’s in the other group so she only really gets page time at the end when they all reunite.
From the synopsis, this book sounded like it was going to be exactly up my genre-alley, but I was worried that it could fall into some dull and tired tropes. I shouldn’t have worried. The Auctor Trilogy saw those tropes of romance and Initiation challenges, and waved them goodbye as it turned off the road and made its own path. This was a fresh, interesting narrative with solid characterisation and an intriguing story that pulls you into anticipation for the sequel. The only noticeable flaw was the lack of convincing diversity – in that respect, The Auctor Trilogy still has one leg immersed in the common issues of its genre.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.