A disclaimer from the start: Rivka Spicer is my flatmate. That might make you think I am biased in this review but her books generally make me want to throw them across the room and I’m happy to tell her so. This is my genuine opinion and the fact that she is currently making my dinner has no bearing on the text below 😀
This week, I have been reading… Marked, by Rivka Spicer.
Marked is the sequel to Sage, and this is now looking to be a trilogy even though she was hoping to wrap things up in two books. The series, called The Last Ancient, follows Sage, a young witch at a boarding school in Yorkshire. The school is open to magical and non-magical pupils alike but the ‘norms’ don’t know about the witchcraft lessons. Sage goes through the usual teen drama of boys and bitchy boarding school girls, but there is also a prophecy about to become heart-breakingly relevant.
Some background: The magic that the witches use in the TLA universe is drawn from The Source (essentially Earth-magic crossed with The Force, and the living energy of all things) and some witches are ‘Ancients’ who channel this magic into the world to be used by the witches. If there are no Ancients then the magic is cut off. There is currently one known Ancient left, and The Coven (who are the high-ups that make the rules and are a little bit corrupt) are desperate to have little Ancient babies to ensure the continuation of the magical heritage. And then there are the Witchfinders (including a Witchfinder General) who, well, track down witches and kill them. So there’s political peril as well as physical danger.
The title Marked refers to the few witches with a strong enough bloodline themselves to be considered a Consort for an Ancient and able to produce children that will continue channelling the magic. The Consorts are all marked in some way – a birth mark, a difference in their magic – that proves they are Consorts.
Right then. I’ll try and keep things as spoiler-lite as possible, but as it’s a sequel there are some things you need to know. Sorry. The events of Marked take place six months after the end of Sage, towards the end of the same school year. Sage is almost eighteen, and has come to terms with her power and begrudgingly accepts that her future is to some extent out of her hands. She is in love and thing are looking rosy. Oh dear. That does not last long.
I found Marked to be a bit more dialogue-heavy than Sage, but then there are lots of important things to discuss, and more characters to do the discussing. It doesn’t affect the flow of the book really, but there were a few points where I wanted them to stop talking and get on with it! On the other hand it’s still just as funny even in the darker sections, and there are some laugh out loud moments. All I’ll say is… fake ninja moves…
Marked deals with a couple of serious issues in a real world setting. Sage is essentially being subjected to an arranged marriage and as a British citizen she has human rights, but they don’t apply in witch society, which is big on Tradition and Ceremony. So, unable to explain properly why she needs help, she is limited to an extremely emergency extraction plan from the women’s refuge as her real-world way out. She doesn’t take that way out, but I’m glad she investigates the option. This is where TLA differs from Harry Potter: while the witches live in secrecy, they still inhabit the real world and interact with it. They aren’t in a weird parallel bubble universe. The witch pupils still have smartphones and use the Internet (there is an official witch forum called Coven.net) and drive cars. They still call the Police if they’re in trouble.
An underlying theme of the book is Sage’s worries about being so young and being expected to marry and immediately start having children to preserve the bloodline and keep the magic in the world. She is frightened and angry and torn between her ultimate duty and her own personal ambitions. While they do overlap in places, Sage herself is quick to point out that she is not even eighteen and doesn’t feel ready for motherhood and matrimony. Call her again in ten years.
On top of the angst is a tournament to win Sage’s hand in marriage. She faces the possibility that she will be married off to a stranger, even though she is in a relationship with a suitable Consort already. This immediately raises her suspicions because The Coven seem determined to keep her apart from her lover, Dean, even though he is Marked and the two of them were planning to be married (eventually) anyway. So that’s interesting…
We veer a little bit into Hunger Games territory because Sage is a teen fighting a powerful oligarchy and it turns out she isn’t the only one who doesn’t like the way that the witches are being governed. So book three is going to be a belter. I hope Ben is still in it (he probably will be given he is present in the final scene of the book) because he has the best hair, and he always calls Sage ‘my Lady’ because he’s a gentleman. I also want him to have a happy ending maybe more than Sage. He’s been through a lot.
At the end of Marked there’s a bit of a cliff hanger and I literally sat in my chair and went AAAAAAAARRRRGHHHHH!!! but luckily there was no one else in the house. Rivka’s books often have that effect on me – when I finished Carnevale I almost threw my reader across the room – but this time it was just in frustration that the book stops RIGHT THERE. With Carnevale it was because of my hatred of a character and his continuing manipulation even after being a total douchebag. Speaking of Carnevale, that series is vaguely linked to TLA because a couple of characters appear or are mentioned, but according to the author there isn’t going to be a total crossover.