Sometimes one comes across a tome so fantastic, so epic, that it's even hard to know how to review. Dragon Mage was one such story for me. Everything, from characters, to worldbuilding, to the plot, to the themes, hit every checkmark I have for a book. The prose was seamless, the characters endearing, the worldbuilding nearly perfect, and the magic unique.
The story follows Aramon Raythe, an autistic boy who grows up in a small village and wants to be a sailor. Right off the bat, I absolutely adored Aram. He is quirky, sweet, and an underdog. He is obsessed with knots, and has a secret cave full of thousands of them. Next, we meet Markus Gallier, who stands up for Aram against bullies and befriends him. My heart swelled to twice it's normal size. Having family members on the spectrum, my heart melted as these two boys formed a tight bond, and it continued throughout the whole story. They weren't just friends. They were brothers, as Markus says later on in the book.
The majority of the story is told from Aram's POV, so we get an inside look into his thought processes and what makes him different. Everything from not liking his food to touch, to not understanding sarcasm, to seeing in color, makes him unique and entirely endearing.
The world building had me hooked from the beginning. We are introduced to two worlds - the World Above and the World Below. In a cataclysmic event called the Sundering, the world of magic was separated from the world of man by a Veil, and in between these two worlds is the void, where all manner of strange beasts roam, lost forever in their search for essence. Essence is what gives man and beast access to magic. The world of man has lost essence almost completely, save for a few individuals, such as Aram, who have some of the Auld blood and therefore still have essence in their body. The Exaliri are a group of sorcerers who hunt down those who have essence and drain it from them for their own purposes. Sergan Persigal is one such evil man, and in the process of hunting down Aram, the reader is introduced to the fact that not only is Aram considered a Savant, someone who can see the very threads that hold the world together, but Markus is a True Impervious, meaning magic cannnot harm him.
This leads me to the unique magic system in this book. Strands of aether hold the world together, and bind the Veil so that two worlds don't intersect. Those who know how can rend the Veil, allowing for void creatures to seep into the world of man in their search for essence. And if they are strong enough, they can tear a rent into the two worlds at specific points. Through a series of unfortunate events, Aram is flung into the world of magic and Markus is left behind to train as a Shield, basically a body guard for the Exaliri.
The rest of the book details Aram's adventures in the world of magic, and was by far my favorite part of the book. There are Windriders, who bond with a dragon and keep their land safe. There are Elysium, magical horses who are so full of essence they must be protected at all costs. Through it all, Aram grows into a courageous young man who learns just how powerful he is. Only he can stop the destruction of their world by the Exaliri, who follow Aram into the world of magic in the hopes of reversing the Sundering and bringing both worlds back into harmony so they can harvest essence.
This story is a behemoth at around 1000 pages. I found myself totally enraptured, and was sad when it ended. I can understand why Spencer's devoted fans raised an outcry when they were told this was a standalone story. My understanding is that we can now expect a sequel, and I must admit, I'm quite happy about this. More Aram and Markus, please and thank you.
A hearty 5/5 stars for this classic epic fantasy, and one of my favorite reads in a long time.