By: M.L. Spencer
Reviewed by: Andy Peloquin
The world, magic, and fantastical flavor is spot on.
Seeing an ASD/neuroatypical person (like me) represented in the pages of fantasy was an absolute treat! Classic fantasy that kept me reading all the way to the last word.
I was excited to dive into Dragon Mage because the main character, Aram Raythe, is on the autism spectrum, like me. Never before have I read an ASD main character, so it was exciting for me to have this kind of representation on the page.
It absolutely didn’t disappoint!
Representation done right. The book didn’t shy away from giving Aram many of the typical ASD quirks and traits, but actually used them as his strengths rather than forcing him to overcome them. It gave, in my opinion, an incredibly accurate insight into what it means to live with a neuroatypical brain, feel like an outsider/odd-one-out, and to struggle with things that many people consider “normal” or “easy”. More than once, I found myself nodding along as Aram engaged in typical ASD behaviors that I immediately recognized. It made me instantly connected to the character, and I never lost that.
What really hooked me, though, was Markus. Diverse characters like this are always treated as “freaks”, and there was the classic “bully picking on the weirdo” scene requisite in every classic fantasy novel with a young, different protagonist. But early on in the book, Markus steps in and gives Aram the connection that he’s been needing. As someone who’s struggled with social connections my entire life, I felt Aram’s pain and relief at finding a new friend. Their journey together was the bedrock of this book, and it was done with what I consider a beautiful balance between showcasing their differences and moving beyond them to form an unbreakable friendship.
The world, magic, and fantastical flavor is spot on. The magic system is unique and interesting, but it’s instantly understandable and easily followed as Aram progresses along his journey. The two realms (World Above and Below) feel different in subtle and meaningful ways. It’s not an overly detailed world, but that actually makes it easier to keep reading and focusing on the characters without getting bogged down by too many setting details.
The tone of the book is reminiscent of every coming-of-age classic fantasy novel that we’ve loved over the years. It’s a simple story–a young man with mysterious abilities is taken on a fantastical journey to becoming powerful–but at no point did it feel rehashed or recycled. Even the way dragons are woven into the world is fascinating and unique enough to keep me reading. It will tap into that nostalgic feeling of the first classic fantasy novel you read, but it’s utterly unlike anything else you’ve read because of the neurodiverse main character.
I truly, deeply loved this book. It had me feeling all kinds of things in a way that few books in recent years have managed. I’d give it SIX stars if I could!
This review is the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of Aethon Books or its employees.
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