Instrument of Peace, Rebecca Hall
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Elsewhen Press (26 Sept. 2016)
The first instalment in the Symphony of the Cursed series, Rebecca Hall’s Young Adult Fantasy novel is set at the world-renowned but unimaginatively named Academy of Magic. Despite the Academy’s New Zealand location, this boarding school resembles a mixture of an English-speaking international school and Hogwarts for millennials who’ve outgrown Harry. However, life at the Academy becomes rapidly less wholesome when The Twisted Curse arrives; ‘“I’m not God, but I can offer an educated guess. Someone at the Academy made a deal with one of the Fallen and this chaos is the price.”’ Instrument of Peace touches on a broad scope mythology, including zombie horses, faeries, Faust, all manner of magicians, vampires and, when the effects of The Twisted Curse takes hold, the Devil himself.
Our protagonist, Mitch, is an American teenage wizard with the ‘floordrobe’ and pop culture references to prove it; ‘“I am spider man.” Spider man never threw up and neither would he.’ Though a strained relationship with his family means that Mitch thinks of the Academy as his home, he’s more comfortable with maths than magic, more interested in girls than grimoires. Like the kids at the X Mansion who aren’t motivated enough to make team, he and his group of friends spend their down time watching Iron Man and dating each other; typical teenagers. As the Twisted Curse’s mayhem rampages through the Academy, he’s forced to spread his social wings, allying himself with Hayley–sexy new girl, ‘insufferable know-it-all’, mysteriously orphaned and possibly angelic–and the brilliant but isolated Nikola.
Hayley has larger role to play in the Eternity War, a struggle between Heaven and Hell which manifests itself via devastating–and geographically accurate–earthquakes. That, and her fractious interactions with Mitch, would usually be enough to poise her as the obvious endgame love interest, especially when his family becomes indebted to her after she saves his brother’s life. Despite this, it is his increasingly tender bond with Nikola which emerges as the far meatier relationship. The reader endures Mitch’s ogling of his female peers, but in spite of his no homo attitude their friendship is a catalyst for his shy emergence from the valley of bro teenage masculinity, enabling him to talk about his feelings for the first time. Their relationship is a refreshing curveball from the conventions of the genre, and one which Hall continues to explore in her sequel, Instrument of War.
Hall gives the reader immersive insight into the life of the students. Her magic is dangerous, not domestic, and many of the lessons are genuinely nail-biting practice sessions; a memorable example being Mitch struggling to transform his hand so he can submerge it in Hydrochloric acid. Each magic practitioner has a different speciality, covering everything from clairvoyance, illusion and necromancy. one of stronger aspects of Instrument of Peace is the attention to detail Hall gives to magic’s pitfalls, rather that it’s power. Magic is never a fail-safe button; it’s something which requires rigorous effort. It also comes with a price. Due to an intolerance to magic, Nikola spends the majority of his time in the infirmary, chronically ill and failing classes despite his genius. Instrument of Peace doesn’t take itself too seriously though, with pithy one-liners scattered throughout and gory, tongue-in-cheek romps.
Rebecca Hall, originally from New Zealand, is now based in Scotland and is both an Editor and a writer. Instrument of Peace, Instrument of War and, the conclusion, Instrument of Chaos are available in digital and paperback from Elsewhen Press, a passionate independent publisher of Speculative Fiction. Though this debut novel gives the reader plenty to dig their teeth into, at times the plot becomes a bit lost in the sauce, and the attention to detail in the editing speaks to a new publishing house in the process of finding its feet.