The Warrior Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima

Cinda Williams Chima is a local author for me; she’s from ‘a suburb of Cleveland’ (Cuyahoga Falls), ailment writes a nutrition column for the Plain Dealer, see and teaches at the University of Akron. She’s written (so far) two fantasy novels in this series, buy and as of yet, there are no plans to make it into a movie.

The first of these two books, The Warrior Heir, is set in present-day Ohio, in a town I’m pretty sure she made up that’s in that quadrant of the state where there’s not much else (south of Akron, east of Columbus and Cincinnati). A boy, Jack, grew up with what he thought was a heart condition, so he had to take medicine every day. One morning, when he was about sixteen, he forgot, and when he went to soccer tryouts after school, he nearly killed someone. He came home and his flaky-but-hot aunt was there, and after admonitions that he should take his medicine, she drags him and two of his friends off to do some genealogy research. Supposedly. Despite getting chased by (apparently) dark magicians of some sort, they end up finding a sword in a grave belonging to his ancestor. Jack is, of course, very confused by all this mess (wait, magic exists?), and eventually someone explains to him some of what’s going on.

No, he doesn’t have a heart condition. Actually, there are lots of magic-workers in the world. Wizards are at the top of the heap, but there are also enchanters, warriors, etc. They’ve been hiding among the normals (“anaweir”, pronounced quite similarly to ‘unaware’) for years. In order to be one of them, you’re born with a strange crystalline stone in your heart, and what type it is determines what you’ll be. Jack was supposed to be a wizard, but he was born without a stone, and he would have died had not someone implanted a stone in his heart – but she implanted the stone of a warrior, instead. Warriors are few and far-between, and they generally fight for the glory of their House – because, of course, the world is divided up into Red and White. (They never really stopped fighting the Wars of the Roses.) And now, because a wizard from the White Rose House saved his life, she’s expecting him to fight as the warrior for the White Rose. Only . . . throw a wild card in there, a third House, and see what happens.

What this book has going for it: a new and inventive system of magic and magic users, some serious wish-fulfillment (an ordinary teenager from small-town Ohio turns out to be, oh, one of the two most important people alive?), a setting in Ohio (what? it doesn’t happen that often!), good characters (Jack, his best friend Will, his love interest Ellen, Aunt Linda), and a good amount of shock, awe, and personal growth.

What irked me about this book: the narrator’s tone (it sounded condescending quite a bit), a lack of humor (funny things may have happened, but I can’t remember them), and the way the author glossed over things by going, “Over the next few weeks, Jack trained with . . .” I don’t mean she had to describe all of it, but her transitions were clumsy. J. K. Rowling did it much better. Also, I think CWC was trying for a similar semi-detached narrator-style to JKR’s, and she missed by a bit. I don’t know if it’s because JKR is English and therefore condescension comes across as humorous to Americans (and CWC is from, oh, Northeast Ohio, speaking the same basic dialect that I do, and therefore comes across as condescending), but it didn’t really work for me. (Also that basic lack of humor.) There was also a few plot points that came across as deus ex machinae to me (or whatever the plural is), but I don’t know if that’s because I’m hypersensitive about pulling things out of nowhere after Harry Potter or because they really were almost illogical. (Talking about them more would be too spoilery.)

Still, the magic was interesting, and this was a fantasy book written by a woman with a male main character. Those seem to be in a bit of short supply, despite Harry Potter, and if someone’s looking for a book like this to interest a male reader who’s finished Harry Potter but is still in high school, it would be a good read. I’ll give it, for content, 3.5/5 stars.

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