When he’s 15 years old, Tomas Torres discovers quite by accident that he can throw magic fireballs. Hoping to help his family out with the money, he lets himself and his skill get employed by the mafia who can always use an untraceable arsonist. But it doesn’t take long until he gets caught. Instead of prison, Tomas finds himself in a school that is filled with kids who have powers. And there’s VeeVee, star pupil, who gives him a tour first thing. But Tomas doesn’t want to be there, no matter how pretty VeeVee is.
I am not familiar with the series Arcanum 101 is a prequel to (the series isn’t about Tomas and VeeVee, though). In fact, I wasn’t even aware this was part of any kind of series at all at first. Having read it now, I would be willing to check out the rest of the series, although Arcanum 101 didn’t really show me why I should.
Arcanum 101 is a novel that moves in fits and bursts and never finds the right balance between plot/action and infodump. The pacing is just never quite right. It’s short enough and well-written enough that it’s still a quick read, but that speed is definitely not thanks to the pacing.
I liked the idea of Tomas’ background – he is latino, he comes from a tough neighborhood – but to my knowledge neitehr Lackey nor Edghill are latinas and it shows in the execution of the characterization of that background, as well as the way Tomas mixes English and Spanish. Nothing about this felt very authentic to me. Now, I’m a white European, so it may very well be that I’m off about this, but I doubt it.
Equally unconvincing, unfortunately, was the romance between Tomas and VeeVee which was just a little too standard to have the necessary emotional weight and comes with its own annoying and fabricated drama that didn’t do much for me at all.
There was potential here, but the novel(la) doesn’t really live up to it. I don’t know if it wins if you know more about the series and I don’t know if the rest of the series is any better. I am not swearing off the series in its entirety – it wasn’t that bad – but I’m not going to go looking for it either.