Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, by James M. Ward (Tor, 2005)

At sixteen, Halcyon Blithe came into his powers relatively late, especially for a family renowned for turning out powerful wizards. However, as the seventh son of a seventh son, he definitely has a lot more magical potential than wizards twice his age. Blessed with the abilities to command air, water, and rope, he’s a natural for the Arcanian navy, and eagerly takes his place as the newest midshipwizard aboard the great dragonship Sanguine, where they’ll turn an inexperienced lad into a proper fighting man, no matter how difficult the challenge. Blithe, whose entire family has served the navy in some form or fashion for generations, feels up for anything, and takes to the high seas like a natural. Little does he know, however, that a deadly storm is brewing, one of his own design, and sooner or later, he’ll have to pay a high price. But before that can happen, he’ll learn how to sail, to fight, to make friends and deal with those who resent his power and his fortune. He’ll be bloodied in battle, and have to deal with a traitor hidden amongst the crew, risk his career to save the ship, and face the very real possibility of death. But such is the lot of a midshipwizard in a world where a small island nation fields living dragonships – naval vessels united with powerful seadragons – against a hungrily-growing empire of shape changers.

Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe was billed as Harry Potter meets Horatio Hornblower, and I am overjoyed to state that there’s a lot more of Horatio than there is Harry. No offense to the good lad from Hogwarts, but there’s little comparison here, with this exciting, salty tale of magic, adventure, and treachery on the open sea. Ward has a strong start to a promising new series here, one that only occasionally drifts off-course. Sure, one can predict some of the major twists, but it’s a solidly entertaining yarn that sets up a world ripe for exploration. I expect future volumes in the series will continue to chronicle Blithe’s rise through the ranks as he meets his destiny, and I’m looking forward to it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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