Dark Apprentice (Fall of Magic #1) by Val Neil
Published by Living Relic Press
Adult, Dark Fantasy
Release Date : April 4th 2021
A psychopathic wizard. An immortal mage. An epic battle of wills.
Nikolai doesn’t want much out of life: sex, immortality, and the power to disembowel anyone who crosses him. But with dark magic forbidden, his only option is Medea–a mage so deadly even the Enforcers give her a wide berth. Despite dire warnings that her apprentices don’t survive, Nikolai won’t stop until she agrees to train him. After all, he’s a killer himself.
Barbaric and brutal, the training is a far cry from what Nikolai expects. When a mysterious illness strikes Nikolai down, he suspects he’s found the secret to Medea’s longevity. He resolves to find out what happened to her previous apprentices. If he can locate the source of her power, he can turn it against her.
Medea swore off training dark wizards–none of them take the craft seriously and the ungrateful bastards always try to kill her. This one definitely seems the backstabbing type, but magic is dying out and she hasn’t felt such magical strength in centuries. If she can control the boy, show him that magic is more than curses and necromancy, he might obtain the power he desires. If not, well . . .
What’s one more dead apprentice?
Fool her once, shame on them. Fool her a dozen times, and a pattern emerged.
Dark Apprentice is a dark fantasy about learning magic and two neuro diverse wizards that is snarky, fun, hilarious, and should be added to your TBR.
When the year 2021 ended I had a few self published books that I have listed to read in 2022. Now that all of the moving and distractions are taken aside, I am slowly creeping back to my prime reading state. I finally tackled one self published book on my list and that book is Dark Apprentice by Val Neil. This book has been highly recommend by a few mutuals on Twitter. The ratings for Dark Apprentice is under 200 ratings on Goodreads. Surely this book is super underrated and for that I wanted to use my voice to promote this gem of a book.
Based on my reading experience I have read probably one book in the adult fantasy genre that have neurodiverse representation and that book is also self published. From blurbs and list of things to expect on the Neil’s pinned tweet, one character is a manipulative psychopath and the other is an autistic woman. What I find refreshing is the fact that Neil also mentioned that there is no romance contained in the story. This might be a turn off to some readers but for me romance isn’t necessary to plot and sometimes its better without it (unpopular opinion).
Before I dive into my review I would like to highlight the cover art of the book but I could not find the artist or it might be Val Neil that made the cover. Please someone kindly point the way so I can link the artist or Val Neil please help.
“They want to learn how to kill people. And you’re surprised when they want to kill you?”
Dark Apprentice is Val Neil’s self published debut novel and first book to the Fall of Magic series. Medea has lived for over centuries, lived through many historical moments, and survived many attempts of murder by her apprentices. She has sworn off having an apprentice because they keep trying to murder her for some reason.
Nikolai is a power hungry psychopath that sees people as mere tools or stepping stones to be taken advantage of. He has been experiencing a lot of frustration about his progress as an apprentice for a local wizard. Feeling like he is going no where with the lessons, Nikolai sees an opportunity to further his dark magic cravings when he meets Medea. After digging around for information about her, Nikolai sets his trajectory to have her take him as apprentice.
Using his cunning instincts to manipulate his way into a situation where Medea could not refuse him, Nikolai gets his way. But being the apprentice of a grand master such as Medea is no walk in the park and Nikolai is going to learn a very hard lesson about magic and trust.
Witholding information felt dirty. Knowledge was the greatest gift one could bestow on another. It was meant to be shared.
Reading the list of things to expect going into Dark Apprentice, I had expectations for fantastic character dynamics between Medea and Nikolai. If you are a reader that likes epic world building, complex magic systems, and a plot driven admirer, this book will not be your cup of tea. Dark Apprentice is centered around the characters and their relationship. Val Neil did not disappoint in delivering incredibly snarky one liners and writing seamless volleys between the master and apprentice that got me cackling throughout reading the book.
The main aspect of the story is communication. While it is a story about an apprentice trying to learn magic in a historical setting with soft fantastical elements, what Neil highlights the most is communication between Medea and Nikolai. How two neuro diverse characters, with their contrasting personalities and generation gap, interact in a confined space to find a middle point where they find understanding. It is not an adventure story with a clear quest to do something, it is a story about characters and how they are trying to understand each other.
Who needed patience and sacrifice when you had persistence and cunning?
Though it is a dual perspective story, the perspective that readers will interact most with is Nikolai’s. Seeing Nikolai’s thought process throughout the book is a triggering experience as he is a psychopath with an ego problem, but somehow I keep rooting for him to snap out of his stupor of stubborn thoughts. Readers should keep their minds open for Nikolai as he is a character that will need time to love.
Val Neil added layers into his characterization to give him dimensions. From Nikolai’s perspective Neil also gives an in depth exploration on the way he thinks and views the world around him, which he thinks is the same as his. The factor that makes Nikolai’s perspective interesting is seeing him being humbled over and over again. It is funny seeing him just struggle and writhe in pain over something he did. As much as I like seeing him suffer though, the development in his character throughout the book and his gradual change in thought process is satisfying in the end.
As much as she wanted this one to live, she’d vowed to protect him from her training, not his own stupidity.
Readers will surely fall in love with Medea. Medea is an autistic wizard that loves knowledge and books. Medea’s characterization also has depth and is very well fleshed out. Throughout the book readers will gradually fall in love with her character. Even though she is knowledgeable in magic and meticulous when it comes to learning, she is not a people person. An introvert through and through. There is no huge development in her characterization per se, as it is the first book, but Medea did learn a lot from teaching Nikolai how to deal with people.
What I admire about Medea is how she takes care of her apprentice and always gives them the benefit of the doubt even though they are as terrible as Nikolai. She wants to see them succeed no matter what the cost and she will go to the ends of the earth to help them get there.
The fun part is seeing Medea giving zero fucks when she’s teaching her apprentice about magic. There is no training wheels when it comes to learning from Medea, the apprentice will learn things the hard way only and will probably nearly die a few times. Even though she is a harsh teacher she is reasonable and keen to discuss anything the apprentice is curious about. Reading Medea’s thought process is interesting, because readers will get to see the many relatable facets of her being. There is a quote that I love that she says about books that has put a smile on my face.
An unread book was just a cover—a promise of ideas or emotions. Like people, they introduced themselves and tried to put their best foot forward. It wasn’t until you spent time with them that you got to know their true nature.
Final thoughts, Dark Apprentice is a medium paced character driven story about a relationship between two unlikely people that is filled with entertaining mishaps, face palm second hand embarrassing moments, uncontested dynamics, clear character development, and overall an intriguing learning experience about magic. I highly recommend this book for anyone that loves a character driven dark fantasy about magic or if you want to see a character being proved wrong so many times read this book.
Dark Apprentice is the perfect start to a series that I will indeed anticipate to continue. The second book Dark Mind is currently in the works and is set to release in November or December according to Val Neil’s website. It is an underrated gem of a book that I wish more people will read after reading this review because I had a fun time reading it. Please show your support by adding this book to your TBR and buy it on Amazon or if you want bonus content you can buy it straight from the author’s website.