The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One is the first in a series of young adult fantasy from two authors: Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr. Mark Twain once said that there’s no such thing as a new idea and he was talking about the same stories being told over and over using a twist of the kaleidoscope to create variations. But these authors have proved Twain wrong – you’ve never read anything quite like this. Wondertale | May, 2017 | Paperback | 312 pp
In this high fantasy, people live on a giant archipelago of islands on the water world of O’Ceea. In this world, almost everyone has the ability to create projections with varying degrees of intensity. They can create elaborate decorations, beautiful appearances, and project incredible flavor onto otherwise bland food. There are limitations and strict adherence to rules and regulations everyone must follow when projecting. People must take tests and earn chips in different skills to join a guild for certain types of projections. And when accepted into a guild, one is limited to projections of that type. But there is more – for some.
Children who reach a certain age are brought before a ‘Puller’ in the Color Ceremony held once per year in each region. The Puller determines if the child has a color or not. Most do not and remain a commoner free to join a guild. Those who have a color pulled become mages and can train in The Magician’s Workshop. From there, they sky is the limit. They can participate in competitions and have a chance to work on the yearly ‘Grand Projections’ seen throughout the islands.
The story is told through varying viewpoints of young adults coming up on the Color Ceremony: Kai, a social outcast by familial association with a strong group of supportive friends who could care less about social stigma; Talia, best friend to Kai and regular accomplice in illegal underage projections; Kaso, an orphan who needs to get to another district in order to participate in the Color Ceremony legally; and Kalaya, a young woman with color lineage but low confidence. The first volume of The Magician’s Workshop develops the main players as we get familiar with their strengths, weaknesses, and hearts just prior to the Color Ceremony.
One would assume the reason these young adults would want to have a color pulled, become a mage, and enter The Magician’s Workshop is to become a part of some elite force of magicians fighting evil in the world, right? Not so in this case. And this is where it gets deliciously strange and oddly compelling. The Workshop can be viewed as the O’Ceean version of Hollywood. It seems that one of the highest roles a mage can perform is to be a part of the yearly Grand Projection, a new ‘movie’ that is played out before the entire population of O’Ceea. The mages create the story line and project the images and even the feelings to move people. And in O’Ceea, this is a pretty big deal.
The Color Ceremony and Grand Projection are set close to each other, and while the kids are preparing for the big deal, teaser trailers or ‘glimmerings’ are provided by mages all over the isles – some announced, some random and spur-of-the-moment. After seeing a dramatic Glimmering, orphan Kaso refuses to view all of the subsequent ‘visionariums’ – opinions, thoughts, and critiques that float around in giant bubbles which anyone can enjoy – made by ‘Opinionators’. Hilariously, these ‘Opinionators’ can be likened to all of the book and movie critics from our world. Kaso would hate me.
“He found the Opinionators not only a waste of time, but also a huge distraction from what the Grand Projections were meant to be. To him, Opinionatoring about a projection was like dissecting a living thing. It cut the projection up into little bits and pieces until all that remained was an unrecognizable pile of nonsense. Opinionators were just trying to get famous on the back of the Workshop.”
Sounds complicated? The world building is quite extraordinary and what I’ve provided is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the color-coded time schedule (no hours – just colors), draconian punishments for underage projections, an old Grand Projection with an evil dark lord who is celebrated and revered as much as Darth Vader – which makes the reader insanely curious to know more, the mysterious disappearance of some mages, and a motley band of pirating ‘Poozers’ who we would liken to ‘posers’ – those who cast projections as a disguise.
The first volume is all world building, character development, and the build-up of suspense. Sadly, the reader doesn’t get what it so desperately wants by the end. It’s not a cliffhanger, but there is no climax, no reward. But don’t worry – it’s all in the first 120 pages of the second book which is already out (and I’ve already read). Although I was disappointed with the end of the first book, the rest of it blew me away with originality and emotional connection to the characters. The Magician’s Workshop isn’t like anything you’ve ever read, guaranteed. Highly recommended!