“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus
For as long as he can remember, Fay has been different and being gay doesn't help; but, because his parents want his extraordinary abilities kept secret, Fay tries his hardest to keep his gifts to himself. Often this is tested, like when high school bullies make his life miserable. Fay knows he can easily make them look like fools if he uses his powers but doesn't want to upset his parents. Fay has told only one person, his best friend, Sam, who is just as different, but no one knows except Fay. Sam’s mother is dead, and she's never told her father. When a representative of Janus University, a school for 'magically gifted students,' comes to recruit them, they are both thrilled, but they don't know that their whole world is going to change, and not always for the better.
Fay and Sam are thrilled at the prospect of going to a school where everyone is as unique as they are and where they can learn something practical. Knowing there will be combat trials Fay and Sam must pass to be admitted, they begin a rigorous training program. Since a spell shows Fay that Tyler, his bisexual boyfriend, is his familiar, Tyler needs to train too. Sam is a real slave driver with a hot temper and a violent streak. She doesn't always stop to think before she acts. Sam loves Fay, although it might not seem so at times because of her snarky disposition. Because Fay and Tyler are now bonded, she includes Tyler in her very small inner circle of protection, and the three of them become a force to be reckoned with.
When they are transported to the university, things are far different than they expect. Since Tyler is Fay's familiar, they occupy the same room. Although they push their beds together, it's more for comfort than anything. The expressions of their growing love for each other are limited to cuddling, hugs, and an occasional kiss, emphasizing the emotional part of getting to know each other. During their stay, they are tested in many ways, both purposefully and accidentally; each challenge changes them, making Sam and Fay aware of things they need to improve upon as individuals as well as magic practitioners.
This book is well-written, intense, and obviously well researched and intricately planned. The pacing of the story seemed off in places and sometimes dragged for a while, but I loved Fay's wit and humor so much I persevered to the exciting parts to come. There were lots of reveals in the story and hints of things to come along with some original twists and turns. Although the violence, especially when it came to some of Sam's attitudes, was disturbing at times, she was definitely a strong female role model with a lot about her to be admired, such as her loyalty and devotion to Fay. As in all high fantasy stories, there was a staggering amount of world building that was interesting and well done. Although the battles were disturbing, they were descriptive and detailed as well as the students' familiars. In a way, this is one of those situations in storytelling where you just have to be there to fully appreciate it. If you like a story with teen gay and bi characters with special abilities, arcane universities, mythical beings, and epic battles, you may enjoy this book. Thank you, Tom, for a unique and interesting story.
Originally reviewed at Rainbow Book Reviews.