Precisely one year ago, the extremely talented Daley Downing made her indie-publishing debut with the amazing YA fantasy novel Masters and Beginners, the first book in the Order of the Twelve Tribes series. So today, I’m celebrating with a special post. Because this really is a terrific series, and one you should definitely not be missing. (And not just because it happens to feature covers designed by a brilliant young artist who is incredibly modest. And also incredibly handsome.)
My original plan for this Bookiversary was to re-post my review of Masters and Beginners. But having looked it over, I realized that it was a little too sparse on detail. (I didn’t have a ton of experience with book reviews when I wrote it; this was in my early blogging days…last year. Short reviews are SO 2017.)
So, instead, I decided to do a whole new review! This one will consist of reasons why you, the busy fantasy reader with the staggeringly long TBR, should take the time to read Masters and Beginners.
It features a fresh take on a time-honored concept. We’re all familiar with stories featuring adolescents coming of age against the backdrop of fantastical intrusions upon their lives. And that’s not a criticism of the premise—it’s used frequently because it works. However, there are certain unfortunate tropes that are all too often tacked on to this kind of story. The kids in question typically escape a humdrum or downright depressing reality and rebel against adults in order to enter a realm where they make the rules and people finally “understand” them. Authority figures are most often portrayed as the enemy and parents are either evil, monumentally stupid, or dead. (Or all three.)
Masters and Beginners takes the conventions of YA fantasy in an entirely different direction. For one thing, the kids are already full aware of the magical reality underlying the “ordinary” one from the start of the book. This sidesteps the tiresome “oh my gosh my boyfriend has wings” chapters one usually encounters at the beginning of a contemporary fantasy novel, which leave genre-savvy readers drumming their fingers and waiting for the characters to accept the patently obvious. The adult/parent characters know about magic as well. Plus, they’re alive (mostly), they’re intelligent, and they have fully-developed, distinctive personalities in their own right. These elements alone are enough to make M&B a standout in the fantasy a market. But wait! There’s more.
It has a richly-detailed, brilliant mythology. I’ve read a lot of books by Christian authors in which anything pertaining to magic or mythology was described as evil in order to justify the writer’s choice of the fantasy genre. Such books might go over well with a certain segment of Christian readership, but they can be off-putting to the average fantasy lover. Plus, storytelling like this does nothing to dispel the common misconception that Christians can’t write decent fantasy to save their lives. Thankfully, Masters and Beginners suffers from no such hang-ups. The mythical and the magical are blended seamlessly to create a captivating alternate reality. Christian themes are explored, but not in a way that causes the book to descend into preachiness. I’ve read very few Christian authors who tackle contemporary fantasy as well as Daley Downing.
It has tasteful and well-written autistic representation. Despite our modern atmosphere of rampant identity politics, autistic voices are frequently swept under the rug. Daley Downing (champions the #actuallyautistic movement by including multiple characters on the spectrum. Authors seeking to include authentic, worthwhile diversity in their fiction can learn a lot from the Twelve Tribes series. Its autistic characters are people rather than token stereotypes, and are as well-developed as the series’ non-exceptional characters. This is the kind of representation I’d like to see more of in the speculative market.
It has a gripping plot and a surprising ending. I can’t say too much about those elements because spoilers. But trust me, they’re there.
The follow-up isn’t a disappointment. Let’s face it, sequels often drop the ball when they try to deliver on the promises of Book 1—or, at the very least, they don’t quite live up to the standards of the first installment. Thankfully, Rulers and Mages hits all the storytelling heights of Masters and Beginners, and surpasses them, building on the aftermath of its predecessor in a satisfying way. Characters grow, consequences stick, and the world expands. I can’t wait to see where Daley takes the series in Book 3. Be sure to check out my review of Rulers and Mages!
There are talking cats. ‘Nuff said.
Both Masters and Beginners and Rulers and Mages are available now from Barnes and Noble. (Man, that was a lot of ‘ands.’) Daley is current hard at work on the third volume, as well. I’ll be promoting the cover and title reveal on this blog when the time comes, so stay tuned for that!