Imagine that you’re telepathic. You hear the thoughts and voices of other people in your head all the time and you have no idea why. Are you crazy? Fifteen-year-old Tristan thinks he is, and when the pills he steals from his drug-addicted mother stop keeping the voices at bay, he plans a permanent escape from the insanity.
Tristan’s plan doesn’t work. An old woman stops him from self-harm, and charges him with a task. She gives him a seemingly blank piece of paper, calls it a map, and makes him swear to protect a magical gem. Scared and confused, his world dissolves into murder, magic, and a journey into a secret world that seems bent on destroying him.
Descendant is the first novel of the Secrets of the Makai series. Since this is the first in the series, I was looking forward to meeting new people, going to interesting places and new adventures. I was enchanted by many things, and let down by others.
I’ll start with the good stuff. The mythology brewing in the pages of this book is interesting. Magic lives here. Telepathy, telekinesis, instantaneous teleportation and even astral travel are used to great effect here. Every living thing, including plants and trees, are woven into an imaginative world that includes a hidden island with magical inhabitants, secret societies, and legends of dragons. I was particularly charmed by the sentience of the plant life, translated by the one person who can hear their conversations.
Tristan is a sympathetic character who is resourceful, intelligent and likeable. Neglected by his mother, he is lost, confused and conflicted. When his world twists beyond recognition he follows his instincts — and a mysterious falcon — to survive. His story is engaging and kept my interest when the pace of the novel slowed to a crawl.
Dorian, the supporting character, is a nasty piece of work. She’s certainly loving and concerned towards her mentor, Gram, but with anyone else she’s selfish, stubborn, antagonistic and jealous. After several chapters of her acting like an insufferable know-it-all, I had no sympathy for her whatsoever. Tristan’s attraction to her is improbable. I can’t understand why he’d have feelings for a girl who treats him with such contempt.
There are problems with the book. While I understand that this is a YA novel, the adult characters have no weight or authority. Essentially, the teen characters can throw hissy fits of “I don’t have to if I don’t want to” and there are little, if any, repercussions from the authority figures. Their roles seem to be limited to cleaning up the aftermath of Tristan and Dorian’s actions.
I was particularly frustrated by the lack of information about the major players. The bad guy has no clear motive for what he is doing. There’s no hint to the identities of the (possibly) supernatural guides who may be influencing the situation. We are given a world of magic and dragons without any substance. Worldbuilding is more than just putting up a façade and asking us to play along — readers need something that will launch the imagination. While Tristan doesn’t understand what is going on around him, there’s no reason readers should be similarly confused.
Tristan blunders along blindly without any assistance, and his struggle makes no sense. Something terrible has happened, and a youth with dangerous and untrained magical powers is involved. Who in their right mind would say, “Let’s watch him and see what he does next.” and then let him go? When he finally gets help, Tristan gains confidence and skill, and his discovery of his power and what he can do with it is the best part of the novel.
The end of the novel is unsatisfying. Other than mentioning dead dragons and musing that some humans may have dragon lineage, there is absolutely nothing more offered about the dragons. The mysterious Makai — the source of the series, no less — are barely active in the narrative, acting as observers who don’t really get involved until the last minute. The people who are part of the Makai feel more like plot devices than characters. At the end of the last chapter, I am left with questions that aren’t compelling enough to inspire me to keep reading the series.
Final rating: 3 stars. I liked it, but it had some issues.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Originally published at: The Bookie Monster