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REVIEW: The Sigil – Shakeil Kanish and Larissa Mandeville

The Sigil - Shakeil Kanish

Genre: LGBT, Dark, Urban Fantasy

Reviewer: H.L.

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About The Book

Lake’s brother Devlin was murdered right in front of him. Simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Or was he? Why, then, does Lake think Devlin knew he was going to die before they ever set foot in the gas station that night? As he obsesses over his brother’s death, Lake begins to uncover a hidden world full of forbidden magic and growing danger. Now he’s stuck, caught between the world that his brother was meant for and his own. Lake is beginning to realize that no one and nowhere is safe. 

Nova Rathers may not be especially powerful in the Mage world but she makes up for it with a magical bag of snacks and a body constructed by the Gods to slay. Desperate to be more than her lineage, she finds herself teamed up with a group of misfits and, in her mind, the weakest creature of all – a gida…a powerless human. Together, they start to unravel the lies that built their world and continue to hold it hostage. Nova’s last year at Breyburn Academe was never going to be easy but she had no idea that it could ever get this bad. 

Lake, Nova, and their newfound friends are about to find the truth behind what has been hunting them. But knowing is only half the battle. Even if they survive, will the rest of the world remain standing?

The Review

The premise of The Sigil by Shakeil Kanish and Larissa Mandeville immediately caught my attention. At the risk of comparing every book that has magic and urban fantasy elements, The Sigil is almost an inverse of the premise of Harry Potter. Lake Smithson, a gay POC teenager, steals his late brother’s acceptance letter to the mysterious Breywood Academy, a school for mages, despite having no magical abilities to speak of – and once there, he must fight to earn the right to stay and become part of the world that is otherwise hostile towards him for not being magically inclined.

YA tends to not be my “thing”, so to speak, but I was excited to read an LGBT book written by an Own Voices male author, and to dive into a dark fantasy. The first few chapters of the novel are a little rough, both in terms of prose and character development – I wasn’t sure how Lake made the leap of logic from finding his late brother’s acceptance letter, to believing that his brother meant to die in a terrible shooting accident so that Lake could go to the academy instead. 

The set-up and positioning of the characters before the plot takes off is probably the clumsiest part of the novel. Once Lake settles into the academy and the real worldbuilding starts to happen, though, the book definitely improves in terms of prose, plot, and character.

Lake is a relatable protagonist for teen readers. He’s finished high school and is enduring the agonising experience of getting rejection letters from the colleges he has applied to, doesn’t really know what he wants to do in life, and doesn’t feel like he quite fits in anywhere. Yet Lake seems to find a purpose when he tricks/pushes his way into Breywood, and fights tooth and nail for his right to stay there despite the danger it poses to him. 

The casual queerness of the setting was a breath of fresh air. There is value in coming-out books for the YA audience, but it’s equally important for YA audiences to read books where coming out isn’t the focus, where homophobia isn’t a feature, and where queer people can just be themselves in a dark fantasy setting.

Overall, despite a rough beginning, the novel amped up to an enjoyable second half and a thrilling, dark ending. There is a great deal of potential with The Sigil, and I will be keeping an eye out for the second book.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Jewish Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.