Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Scholastic Inc
Review Copy: Publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might. Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.
When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.
When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: I went into Caster with pretty high expectations for two reasons: 1. I love Elsie Chapman’s writing — her story in the short story anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is one of my favorites. 2. Fantasy brimming with complex worldbuilding and magic systems is the kind of thing I love to read. Caster, I’m happy to say, did not disappoint.
In Caster, Aza Wu is a caster capable of full magic, magic that comes with a cost to her own body and to the earth — a cost so terrible that it killed her sister. Now, Aza has to do whatever it takes to keep her family’s finances afloat, including dangerous casting and even joining an underground casting tournament. Magic is an integral part of the world Aza lives in, and that’s apparent in the nuance and complexity of the worldbuilding. This is a magic that is visceral and logical and powerful, all at once. It reminded me of what I loved about My Hero Academia and Fullmetal Alchemist — the cost and consequences of having power.
The cost and consequences, along with the social stigma of possessing the ability to cast full magic — which is blamed for the earth’s pollution and earthquakes — creates a complex, morally grey world for Aza to navigate. It was fascinating to explore this world, and I found it hard to put this book down even for a moment.
It didn’t help that this book is absolutely action-packed, as you can probably tell from the existence of an underground casting tournament (!!). You’ll be on the edge of your seat for every moment. The action scenes absolutely deliver.
If you’re looking for a thought-provoking, action-packed fantasy, then Caster is it. Definitely pick it up if you get the chance!
Recommendation: Get it soon! This is the action-packed fantasy that you’re looking for.