In Shadowspell Academy, we meet Wild, a girl who disguises as her younger brother in order to participate at the Culling Trials. These tests are meant for the gifted and stronghearted. If you pass them, you get to be part of the prestigious academy of magic. Oblivious to the existence of magic, and the fact that it runs through her veins, she doesn't have another option than to go forward, or else, her family will die. Moreover, her older brother was killed after getting this same invitation. Thus, she can't let another sibling perish in the hands of these mysterious people. Once she arrives at the trials, she joins forces with other future students, and together they help each other face the different magical challenges. However, there's danger all around, disappearances, life threats, and more puzzles to solve.
It's a compelling story. It flows perfectly and it has the necessary action and intrigue to keep you reading. However, not all is perfect. Let's see why.
I decided to group this series in two and therefore, provide a review of the first three books, and later on, a review on the other three. Let's start with the title. It caught my attention that the authors chose to keep the same title throughout the series and just differentiate each book by assigning them numbers. In a way it's smart as it's easier to remember the name of the books you're reading, specially when the saga is so long. In general, authors choose either to call the book series by the name of the first book or provide an entirely different name to compound them all. This said, I believe in this particular case it makes sense for the way the story was structured. Let's get deeper into this.
I've always believed that less is more. And, I've said this before. I prefer an action-packed-three-book series, than one that the longer it gets, the more diluted the story becomes. From my reading experience, I've only encountered a few writers I would blindly trust for endless book series--J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice, for instance. More often than not, there is no need for long sagas. The Culling Trials is no exception.
These first three books could have been one or two at the most. In fact, they were 200 pages long in average, too short. Furthermore, reading them felt like you were still reading the same book, not three separate installments. Therefore, this is another reason why the title makes sense to me. You see, usually in a book series the characters solve a puzzle, but somehow the conflict is not over, which links and justifies the existence of the following books. Let's use Harry Potter as an example. Harry confronts Voldemort in one way or the other in every book. However, as neither of them perish, there's more story to keep going until you reach the final battle. In the Culling Trials, that first challenge, that first real encounter between the forces of good and evil happens in book 3.
Furthermore, the way books 1 and 2 end in "cliffhangers," well, can you really call those cliffhangers? There wasn't enough tension to justify chopping the story to start the next book. Imagine some characters are having breakfast. The protagonist stops the spoon midair interrupted by a friend, who is about to tell her something not so relevant. And in that moment, book 1 ends, and book 2 picks up the story right at the same scene. What I'm trying to convey is that the scene was not here nor there to create enough expectation for a following installment. Those two books were literally chopped, for no better term of how the story was paused almost randomly because for some reason I want to write a very long book series.
It's unfortunate because I really enjoyed the story, but that's what cost these books a star in my rating. Again, the story is almost flawless, but structure-wise, it was lacking. I sometimes feel a bit disrespected as a reader when I'm "force" to buy six books, when the story could have been packed in three greater books. I don't know if this is an author's decision or an industry issue, but, unfortunate indeed.
Shadowspell Academy (books 1-3)
by K.F. Breene, Shannon Mayer
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