Top critical review
Teaches nothing new
on November 2, 2002
In a wave of reprints and new books about wizards-in-training, E. Rose Sabin's "School For Sorcery" is nothing to write home about. With moderately endearing characters and a somewhat underexploited storyline, it fails to live up to its potential. It's not a bad book, it's just not a particularly good book.
Tria Tesserell has always had magical gifts, but living in a small village with a strict father and cowed mother has never given her room to exercise those gifts. So she is thrilled to go to the Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted. Until she arrives, that is -- there are few students, grimy buildings, tiny rooms and stern teachers. Tria breaks an important rule (folding time) within a few hours of arriving, and her roommate is Lina, a charmingly nasty panther-girl who proceeds to make life difficult -- and not just for Tria.
But the two girls have to put their differences aside on the night of a formal dance. There, a pair of male students, Oryon and Kress, bring in beautiful masked women -- who reveal themselves to be demonic Dire Women. The Dire Women snatch up a pair of young boys and escape the school. The Headmistress is unable to stop Oryon or bring back the boys -- and it falls to Tria and her pals to bring them back.
"School For Sorcery" has an adequate plot, adequate writing, adequate characters, and adequate dialogue. The key word there is "adequate." has a lot of the standard boarding-school characters and problems. As a result, it ends up retreading a lot of the same territory as the Harry Potter and "College of Magics" books. The universe that Sabin writes is also rather undefined. Is this fictional world an alternate universe or a separate fantasy world? It's never entirely clear.
The writing is fairly standard, ranging from extremely descriptive to painfully stark, and it lacks the lushness of Emily Drake's writing, or the entertaining zip of Diana Wynne-Jones'. There seems to be a bit of an anti-male streak, as virtually all the men are ineffectual, bigoted or evil. The dialogue is a bit of a problem; it's often more than a little stilted (hasn't anyone in this book ever heard of contractions?) and this becomes especially distracting during dramatic moments. And some readers may not be keen on the heroines summoning a demonic Dire Woman in a rather sinister ritual that involves animal sacrifice and a pentagram.
Tria herself is a fairly ordinary heroine. There is nothing to really set her apart or make her special, except for her rather vaguely-defined powers. Nubba will gain more sympathy from readers, between her hysterical fits and teasing from her classmates. Other girls such as Kathyn and Taner don't reaklly display any individual characteristics aside from "angry sister" and "tough warrior-woman"; they don't detract from the plot, but they don't add to it either. Oryon at first seems like a promising villain, but he quickly descends into blatant mustache-twirling.
If you're an older Harry Potter fan waiting for the next book, you won't find what you crave in this rather lackluster first novel. It has all the trappings of a ripping good fantasy, but never rises high enough to be better than "okay."