While I was reading Shakyra Dunn’s novelette, First Words: Final Lesson, I had no idea it was a prequel to a much larger world that has yet to be written. There is a small note in the book’s description that it sets the stage for a larger event, but it’s not as clear as it could be, so until I got to the very end and was given a taste of the actual first book in the forthcoming series (titled “The Final Lesson”), I was under the impression this was just the first book in a new series, when in actuality all it’s meant to do is showcase a few key pieces of information that should help in your enjoyment of the actual first book. With that said, the following review is on my initial read while under the impression that it was a complete novel that as opposed to a simple compendium setting up what’s to come.
First Words: Final Lesson tells four different tales, all of which (well, except maybe one) could very well have been expanded into their own full-length adventures. In fact, it probably would have been better if Dunn had done that very thing, because in its current form, it’s hard to connect with anyone on any level, or get invested in the incidents that happen throughout. There’s a fire, a death and a poisoning, and yet, the consequences of these events, and the emotional depth of reactions from the different characters involved is sorely missing, mostly due to the major time jumps that occur from the end of each separate tale into the next.
Part 1 is about Leilana, a young girl who’s about to become the heir to the throne of her kingdom, which should have gone to her older brother Ennis until he succumbed to an illness that ignited his ability to use magic (which is illegal in this particular land). Upon finding a grimoire — aka a book of magic spells — Leilana becomes very interested in magic and the history of why it was banned in the first place.
Part 2 takes us to the land of Adrylis, where we meet the young prince Remiel. His boyish charm and ability to both hide in public without being recognized and befriend those who are less fortunate is quite enduring. One of these newfound freinds is another boy named Solus, whom Remiel takes under his wing when he finds out the boy really has no where else to go. Becoming fast friends, the two protect one another as best they can.
Part 3 moves to Magiten Academy, a school where kids with magical prowess go to learn (both regular everyday subjects as well as magic) before starting their trials in Adrylis. Here we meet Amiria and her friends, Lancett and Kindall, a couple of foolhardy boys who don’t take a whole lot seriously. These characters are eventually introduced to Leilana, a few months after finding the grimoire.
Part 4 takes us on a journey with Leilana’s brother Ennis to become a Warlord. He must travel the world in search of six totems from which he will gather and take to the Warlords of old to find out if he is worthy of their power.
As written, there’s no reason the events that happen here couldn’t have been slipped into dialogue or discussed in backstory in some way throughout the actual first book. Everything happens so fast, all of the events and character motivations are condensed into these little snippets that fail to expand on anything worthwhile. When Leilana meets a stranger who offers to help her with learning the spells in the grimoire, she accepts without any consideration as to who the person is or what his motives are, or what this could mean to her and her people. When Ennis ventures out on his quest, we get about a page of him collecting the totems, so we’re never invested in his growth or his potential.
That last example is one story I wish were expanded into its own full-length adventure. According to Chapter One of “The Final Lesson”, Leilana and her friends are about to embark on their journey to track down their six totems, so having had a full novel that has shown an important character doing this very thing would have added a nice juxtaposition to what happens with Leilana and her friends, and how each of them dealt with the obstacles they are sure to encounter. Instead, we don’t know anything other than Ennis found them, which makes it seem as if anyone could pass the test with ease.
I very much like the ideas that are presented, there are several characters (including Leilana, Amiria and friends) that are fun and enjoyable to hang out with, and after reading the first chapter of the The Final Lesson, I’m intrigued as to what Leilana’s journey will entail. But First Words: Final Lesson doesn’t live up to what could be (or what could’ve been). The prose can sometimes be a little stunted and the dialogue dry, and because there isn’t enough substance to care about what happens to anyone, the book itself is more a textbook for events that happened in the past that a cohesive tale of magic, friendship and wonder.
My Grade: B
Shakyra Dunn can’t stray away from the impression that there is always an adventure around every corner! When she isn’t playing the role of the Creator, she is marching through the worlds of her favorite video game characters or taking drives around her city to see the sights. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she currently resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, striving to experience more than the little town.
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If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.