It’s time for another Indie Book Spotlight!
Note: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Sting Magic, the first book in the new Empire of War and Wings series by prolific author Sarah K.L. Wilson, is a typo-dotted triumph. There are three reasons for that: world-building, a unique magic system, and the fact that it is never boring.
Main character Aella lives in a wild colony, the Far Stones, where residents have freedom and hardships alike. They’re poor and backwards by Imperial standards, but most of their time is spent farming in a land that likes to turn upside down and murder them—the Forbidding, a strange, viney magic that corrupts trees and bears and whatever else it can find. Aella’s family is her everything.
And then the heir to the Empire shows up.
That’s when Aella finds out that she has the same winged, creative twist on familiars-style magic as the Empire’s most celebrated warriors. It’s a dream and a nightmare for her. Except, instead of having birds like literally everyone, Aella hatches golden, magical bees. Heresy!
Aella is forced to leave her family to become property of the ruthless Le Majest, Juste Montpetit. In the course of a few hours she loses everything, with only the warm glow of her cute and happy bee familiars to comfort her. Aella has a litany of horrors to face as she travels through a perilous land alongside violent Imperials, and more than few mysteries to solve as she tries to save her family and weighs joining the rebels.
Familiar magic: Readers will love to hate Sting Magic‘s ruthless villain and adore Aella’s bees.
Sting Magic is a shorter novel that moves at a brisk pace. The cozy but disgruntled domestic scenes at the beginning are the closest it ever gets to slow, plus the “let me barge in and spend a long time asserting my authority even though I clearly have other houses to get to” encounter with the cruel prince that immediately follows it. The latter scene could have been more concise and still left the reader wanting to punch Juste Montpetit if given the chance. He’s pure villain, but it works.
An early exchange with Ospey also feels a touch long, and there’s a bit of bouncing around the timeline here and there that can be confusing. But the high stakes for the main character, combined with the mysteries of her magical and dangerous homeland, keep things moving.
That being said, Sting Magic wasn’t fully my cup of tea. One of its biggest weaknesses is its main character, not a weak female MC at all but a broadly sketched one. Aella is more reactive than anything, and replies angrily to her captors when I would’ve expected a brooding, calculating silence, given her goals. She’s a contradiction that way, flying off the handle despite repeatedly being told she could endanger her family, the absolute last thing she wants. She doesn’t read like a person with a hot temper, either.
I was relieved when Aella finally did something proactive toward her goal, and it filled in some of her missing personality. Still, I left the book with only a weak sense of who she is. (I hope Aella will be fleshed out more in the rest of the series.)
One of the reasons Aella’s weak personality stands out so much is because the other characters are so well-rendered: the irredeemably villainous prince, Juste Montpetit; the snooty society gal who just might be a friend, Zayana; the mentor with the huge personality, Ivo; and Osprey, the toothpick-gnawing would-be ally she can’t fully trust. They are never described extensively (Osprey gets a little extra detail so you’ll know he’s handsome), but the things these characters say and do gave me a clear picture of them and their personalities.
The magic system and world-building of Sting Magic are, of course, superb. I wished the writing was a bit more polished (those typos and repetitive phrases!), but the interesting world Wilson created kept me turning pages.
This is a quick read I recommend picking up, in which you can despise the villain, root for the heroine to accomplish her goals (“Be relentless.”), and lose yourself if an intriguing and dangerous world of fabulous magic.