#WyrdAndWonder Fantasy 5 Tuesday: Training School

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Back in November I ran a series of posts called “Sci-5 Tuesdays” to celebrate Sci-Fi Month, so for Wyrd & Wonder, I thought it would be fun to do something similar to highlight some of the fantasy tropes and themes that I find simply irresistible! In the last few years, I’ve also been fortunate to read some wonderful new books in the genre, so to give them some extra attention, for each Tuesday’s topic I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed.

For our final week, we are looking at the TRAINING SCHOOL trope, a perennial favorite of mine! Whether it’s a school of magic for young wizards or a military institute where fledging heroes and heroines go to get beaten up and build character, fantasy writers and readers appear obsessed with academia!

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War is the story of Rin, a war orphan who was adopted into an opium-running peasant family from a poor southern province of Nikara. Life was hard, but tolerable—that is, until they tried to marry her off to a man three times her age. A girl like her has few other options, however; but Rin is determined not to become some fat merchant’s bed slave, surprising everyone when she decides to study for the Keju imperial examinations and ends up acing them to get the top score in the province. An achievement like this automatically gets her into Sinegard, the empire’s foremost academy for military and combat training, and more importantly for Rin, it also gives her a way out of her arranged marriage and a reason to finally leave her old life behind. But as it turns out, Sinegard is no easy place for a poor southern girl, where the student body is mostly made up children of the Nikan Warlords and elites. To earn an apprenticeship, Rin must work harder than everyone else in the first year to prove her worth. Eventually though, the school’s eccentric Lore master agrees to take her on, recognizing in her a deadly potential. Under Jiang’s tutelage, Rin begins to learn of secret histories and the lost art of communing with the gods, beginning her journey to master the near-mythological forces of shamanism. (Read the full review…)

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister introduces us to the icebound world of Abeth, populated by people who descend from four main “tribes”: the Gerant, distinguished by their great size and strength; the Hunska, dark-eyed and dark haired, capable of great speed; the Marjal, who possess the ability to tap into the lesser magics; and finally the Quantal, who are gifted with the ability to work greater magics and enter a state known as “walking the Path”. Children who manifest even a single talent characterized by any of these four tribes are highly sought after by various institutions from churches to academies, and those who display two or three can even be worth more than their weight in gold. Across the land, children are given away or sold if they show potential, which is how protagonist Nona Grey ends up traveling in a cage along with a dozen other boys and girls her age, being carted off to a prospective buyer. But things don’t exactly work out for Nona. At the age of eight, she finds herself facing the hangman’s noose for committing savage attack on a member of a noble family. However, just before her execution can take place, she is rescued by the abbess of Sweet Mercy, who whisks Nona away to her convent where young girls are trained to be fighters. There, Nona flourishes as a novice and learns the ways of the sisters, becoming especially adept in the arts of combat because of her Hunska blood. (Read the full review…)

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education takes place in Scholomance, a school for magically gifted children. Galadriel “El” Higgins is the main character of this tale. Before she was born, her father had died while protecting her pregnant mother at their graduation ceremony, where both of them had been seniors facing their final challenge—a battle against a swarm of maleficaria, or “mals”, which are monsters that routinely break into the school to devour unwary students. El’s mother had brought her to her father’s family after she was born, hoping for love and support, but instead receives a dire warning. El has an affinity for dark magic, and one day, she is foretold to bring destruction and ruin to the world’s magical enclaves. Having something like that over your head can be rough, and not surprisingly, El grows up to be a rather cynical and surly young woman. Herself now a student at Scholomance, she has poured her full attention into her studies. Everyone who has heard about the prophecy has wisely decided to stay far away—all except another student named Orion Lake. A promising wizard and talented monster slayer in his own right, Orion has apparently made it his personal mission to rescue El from all mal attacks, not realizing he is spoiling all her carefully laid plans. With graduation fast approaching, El has no choice but to alter her tactics, overcoming her disdain for relationships in order to form some new alliances. With this year’s crop of mals especially strong, vicious, and hungry, there will be no surviving the gauntlet without help. (Read the full review…)

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood introduces us to the world where humans and nature spirits coexist in a state of precarious equilibrium. Spirits are destructive forces, but they are also one with the natural world, and without them there would be no rain, no fire, no life. So humans have learned to adapt. In Aratay, a Queen holds control over all the spirits and protects her people from harm. To choose a Queen, girls with an affinity to sense and manipulate the spirits are identified and invited to an academy to learn how to use their powers. The most promising students are chosen to become potential heirs, so that in the event that the Queen dies there will always be a successor to take her place and keep the spirits in line. Sometimes though, there are accidents. The book begins with a spirit attack on a village, which leaves many dead. Our protagonist, a young girl named Daleina was only able to save herself and her family when her powers manifested during the massacre. That ultimately leads her to the academy, where unfortunately, she discovers that her abilities are actually very weak compared to the many more talented girls in her class. But as more villages fall prey to spirits each year, it is becoming clear that the current Queen is starting to lose control. Something very bad is coming, but will Daleina and her fellow aspirants be powerful or prepared enough to confront it? (Read the full review…)

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings follows three characters—siblings Liobhan and Brocc, and their companion Dau. Our trio of young protagonists are initiates on Swan Island, a society that trains warrior and spies. Eager to prove themselves and become full-fledged members, they are thus elated when their superiors tap the three of them for a top secret mission to retrieve an artifact known as the Harp of Kings, so named because it would be ceremonially required at the naming of the next monarch. Without the harp, which has gone missing, it is feared that the people will not accept their new king, so it is of utmost importance that the instrument is found before the upcoming coronation. But as it turns out, their mission might not be so simple. Assigned new names and backgrounds, they must go undercover and adopt their new identities completely as not to arouse suspicion. Sister and brother team Liobhan and Brocc, both being talented musicians, are tasked to pose as traveling bards, but Dau, their fellow trainee, is given the role of a mute stable boy. Together, they travel to meet Prince Rodan, the one who would soon be crowned king, only to find he’s a boorish little cad that nobody likes. Worse, as our characters learn about the harp and the history of the royal family, they come to realize there may be more otherworldly forces at play. (Read the full review…)

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