Connwaer is a young boy living by his wits in the Town of Wellmet, which means being a thief. Wellmet is an ancient city split into two halves. The Rich half across the River is known as the Sunrise, while the poor half living on the other side is known as the Twilight, and ruled over by Underlord Crowe, even though there is a Duchess living in Sunrise that is supposedly in charge of the city.
Conn, almost constantly hungry, one night picks the pocket of an older gentleman making his way through the Twilight. But he gets more than he bargained on, for the man's name is Nevery, and he is a magician, and Conn has swiped his locus magicalicus- a stone all wizards need to do magic.
Theoretically, Nevery's locus should have killed Conn, but for some reason he didn't drop dead just from touching the stone, which intrigues Nevery enough to take Conn on as a servant. For Nevery is a mage who was banished from the city for experiments having to do with pyrotechnics, which nearly destroyed his manor of Heartsease, on one of the islands in the river in the middle of the city that separates the Sunrise from the Twilight.
Other islands hold the Academicos, the Wizard's school, and the Magister's Hall, where the real magic takes place. But Conn is unsatisfied with being just Nevery's servant- why, he's no better than Benet, Nevery's bodyguard, a scary-looking man whose singular passion is to bake, clean and knit. But Nevery is still impressed by Conn's ability to survive touching Nevery's Locus Magicalicus, so he agrees to take on Conn as an apprentice. Grudgingly, but still.
But Nevery has returned to the city for a reason- Magic in Wellmet is dropping dangerously low, and nobody, not even the Wizard's council, seems to be able to understand why. Connwaer, who Underlord Crowe seems to want for mysterious reasons, seems to think that the Magister Pettivox, whom he saw in a mysterious meeting with Crowe in Dusk House, Crowe's center of Operations, is behind the dropping of magic, but he can't prove anything or point to why.
Meanwhile, he has been tentatively accepted as Nevery's apprentice, provided he can find his own locus magicalicus within a month, and because he cannot even read, he's been assigned a student, named Rowan, as his teacher. Conn likes Ro, but he's clashing with another apprentice, Keeston, who is Pettivox's apprentice, and who keeps telling Conn that if Pettivox was Conn's master, he would beat him. Despite feeling that pettivox is doing exactly that to Keeston, Conn has little sympathy for Keeston, who is annoying and mouthy.
But all of Conn's looking for a locus magicalicus come to naught, until one night he follows his instincts and they lead him to Dawn Palace, where he discovers that his friend, Rowan, happens to be the daughter of the Duchess, Willa Forestal, and he finally finds his locus, it is part of the Duchess's crown jewels, an emerald. But can Conn convince the Duchess that the leaf-shaped emerald is his locus magicalicus? And uneknownst to Conn, those who have precious stones as loci are able to call on more magic than those with mere river stones. So what will Conn be called to do with his stone, and is he right that the magic powering the city is a being and not a natural force? What does it want from Conn, and what will he be called to do on its behalf?
I really enjoyed this book, which introduces the readers to a whole new world and also one where magic is quite different. Despite Conn starting out quite ignorant and unlettered, he proceeds to learn quickly, and ends up knowing quite a bit more about magic than even his mentor Nevery or the Wizards at the Academicos.
Readers are left wondering if this is because Conn is truly some kind of genius about magic, and he will end up being the world's strongest, most powerful and intuitive magician, or because he simply doesn't come to the table with the same kind of preconceptions and intolerance of questions that other magicians seem to have been taught and doesn't know not to ask "unreasonable" questions or think thoughts that most wizards would say cannot be true. In the end, we see that his understanding of magic seems to be natural and intuitive, and better than that of any of the wizards about him, even Nevery, his master.
And maybe because of his lack of formal learning before, he soaks up new knowledge and learning like a sponge, learning to read and write after only a few lessons of teaching. Magic seems to be protecting Conn, but we don't know why, or why the Underlord and Pettivox want to deprive the city of magic, which means it will die and the city will have to be abandoned.
This book is very good and very fun to read. It's thick, but reading it never feels dull or like a chore. Conn is an interesting character and pulls the reader into his story. Even when we know he will triumph over the problems that beset the city, what keeps the reader reading is wondering how, and the fates of the other characters in the story. This is a series that if you haven't started reading, you should. No, it's not Harry Potter, not even close, but it's extremely enjoyable and fun to read. Highly recommended.