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If you read the description and think this sounds like Harry Potter for teens, you’re not far off the mark. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to that series when part of your premise is, “Person goes to a school for magic-users.” Doubly so when your main character is an orphan. So that colours the interpretation of the book right from the get-go; it’s just impossible to avoid.

That being said, there are plenty of departures from that concept that make accusations of it being derivative pretty much pointless. I can think of a handful of books that share similar starting points. That doesn’t make them all Harry Potter clones.

(Speaking of being derivative, though, I do feel compelled to mention that characters using guns loaded with rock salt seemed lifted wholesale from Supernatural. A clever idea, and I’m sure it’s been done elsewhere as well, but given that I personally saw it done first on that show, it seemed like a bit of a stale idea.)

The story follows Spirit White, and if that name causes you to roll your eyes, just know that it does the same thing for Spirit herself. After her parents and younger sister died in a tragic car crash, she found herself to be a Legacy, someone with a place at Oakhurst Academy. At least one of her parents attended school there, and due to a not-at-all-creepy policy, the school keeps track of all their former students and makes arrangements for their children should anything similarly tragic happen. Oakhurst, as you could tell from previous comments, is a school specifically for children who can do magic, so yes, you have a boarding school full of magic orphans. But students keep disappearing from Oakhurst. Not often, just a few a year. Most of the students accept this as a fact of life. Some troubled kids run away, so find their fortunes elsewhere. Nobody thinks twice about it. They have enough to do. But a suspicious Spirit and her friends think there’s more to it, and so set out to find out what’s happening to the missing Oakhurst students.

The biggest problem with this book is that it feels like half a novel. Spirit and friends do get to the bottom of why the students disappeared, but that felt more like a single episode of a TV show rather than a complete story arc. There were hints dropped of a much larger plot, one that seemed far more interesting than what everyone else was dwelling on. Why the headmaster of the school has a split personality, going from yelling tyrant to kindly doddering old man depending on the scene. Why, after what seems like a fairly routine disappearance, everyone starts acting like a war is beginning A war may be beginning, but those disappearances were either related to the Wild Hunt plotline, or else that whole plotline (and thus over half the novel) was a diversion and just pure coincidence. Why Spirit’s magic doesn’t manifest.

Why nobody seems to have put together that for a parent to have gone to Oakhurst in the first place, all of their family must have died too, leaving this giant bloody trail across generations.

So while the story and the twists on lore were interesting, it felt unsatisfactory and incomplete. And that was quite a let-down. Likely it was done as sequel-bait, leaving some dangling plot-threads to be picked up later, and I’m sure this book will appeal to people looking for some supernatural adventure involving kids with tragic pasts in an elite boarding school. As fluff fiction goes, it really wasn’t that bad. But I did expect more from it, especially with the tantalizing hints that were being dropped.

Another thing I do want to point out is that this book suffered from some weird assumptions and editing mistakes. Assumption-wise, I’m referring largely to a throw-away scene in which a character talks about creating holy water, and how it’s easy to make because really it just involves water being blessed by a believer. And Spirit’s thoughts essentially go, “Huh, I didn’t know he was a Christian.” At no point was a specific religion brought into it, and blessed water exists as part of different practices in multiple non-Christian religions. So it was a weird assumption, and I’m not sure if it speaks more to character bias or author bias. Could go either way.

As for editing mistakes… Oakhurst was refered to as Oakdale at one point. Spirit’s little sister, Phoenix, was called by the nickname Fee once, at the very end of the book, and after Spirit has thought about her dozens of times through the novel. This is the sort of stuff I expect to be caught in the editing stage of a book, and here, it just slipped by. And before anyone asks, no, it wasn’t an ARC or an uncorrected proof that I read. It was a finished release copy. These errors made it to the final version. Small, and also easy to ignore because they don’t affect the story, but they speak of poor quality control.

So overall? A decent YA adventure. It had its problems, but it was still pretty fun to read, and I’ll probably continue with the rest of the series just to see how the larger story plays out. But after this introduction, I don’t expect great things from it. I expect some fun, some quick reads, and a story that entertains but it largely forgettable, a take-it-or-leave-it series that is neither meant to nor does it leave an impact. Good for passing the time, good for those looking for some comfort fiction, but not for those looking for a book to really wow them.
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I don't know when the authors began this book, but it feels like a very, very belated cash-in on the "Harry Potter" franchise.

And by "cash-in," I mean that Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill have dug up virtually every "magical school" cliche they could find, and whipped it into a tepid, sluggish stew. "Shadow Grail No. 1: Legacies" suffers from bland characters, a slapped-together plot, and lots of filler stuff about martial arts and the interior decor of the school.

After her family is killed in a car crash, Spirit White is whisked off by a mysterious organization called the Oakhurst Academy -- and no sooner have she and her new friend Loch arrived than they are told by Doctor Ambrosius that this is a special academy for magicians. And he turns them into mice to demonstrate his point. Spirit soon gets used to life there, but seems unable to do any kind of magic.

But as the months go by, Spirit and her friends notice that periodically, a kid or two will go missing -- and the school is covering up these disappearances. Is there some kind of financial scam going on, or is it something more supernatural? Whatever it is, they plan to combine all their powers to make sure it's stopped once and for all.

"Legacies" is one of those books I really wanted to like, only to be forced to read a couple of experienced, respected authors making the book up as they go along. Nothing really happens for the first two-thirds of the book, except vague rumblings of Bad Things A-Comin'. It feels like Lackey and Edghill hadn't really thought up any actual plot, so they just ramble a lot about martial arts, fencing and interior decor.

Then in the last couple chapters, Lackey and Edghill hastily cobble together a 2-D villain and a climactic battle, ignoring pretty much all the sinister hints they've dropped thus far. They also drop most of the subplots, and leave major questions (Ambrosius' weird behavior, Spirit's car crash, the magicians not doing anything to save the kids) dangling in the wind. We don't even know what the "Shadow Grail" in the series title is, or who the series villains are!

The lack of plot is made even worse by the ghastly dialogue (" "Since when is life fair?" "The only people that say that are people who don't want it to be") and endless pop culture references that add absolutely nothing. Mentioning Hogwarts and Dumbledore doesn't mean you're not jumping on a bandwagon, ladies.

And the characters are pretty limp as well. Spirit is a whiny, bland character who fades into the background whenever other characters are around, and who spends most of her time complaining about... stuff. Most of the other characters are bland cliches -- we've got the Wizard Mentor, the Studious British Girl, the Goth Rebel, the Designated Love Interest, the Uptight Female Teacher, etc etc. Except for the fiery Muirin, most could have been ripped from the pages of a JK Rowling book.

"Shadow Grail No. 1: Legacies" is a flaccid, cliche-ridden story that never quite manages to develop a plot or memorable characters. Give this one a skip, and read "Wizard's Hall" or some Eva Ibbotson.
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on January 27, 2011
Spirit White wakes up from a car accident to discover her body's beat up, her parents and her sister died, and her house burned down. She has no one in the world and no possessions. It's hard to fight back, but eventually time heals her.

Then she learns of a school for orphans where her parents set up a trust for her in case anything ever happened to them. It is a huge mansion filled with amenities for sports and academics. It's also a place for people with magical abilities.

Spirit believes there's been a mistake. She has no magical powers. It's quite evident during the first day of testing. However, she's a legacy to the school. She must have one; it simply hasn't appeared yet.

Despite its grandeur, Oakhurst thrives on rules. As Spirit's finding her place at the school and amidst all the guidelines, a student goes missing. It might not have made a huge difference, until another student disappears, too.

Spirit and her friends begin to question these disappearances and come to the conclusion that there's something strange going on at Oakhurst. Can they solve the mystery before the same thing happens to yet more students, possibly one of them?

LEGACIES is a fun start to a new series that creates a blend of magic and mystery with a dash of potential romance. Once Spirit and her friends comprehend the danger within the school, they do everything in their power to change the situation. They must unravel layer upon layer of mystery, all while keeping their suspicions to themselves. I loved the double lives they lead and the lengths they go to in order to keep them separate.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Rummel
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