First off, this is one of those books that I am pretty sure when I come back to it later for a re-read, I will be bumping up to five stars (already done as of posting this to CBR). It’s taking up space in my brain, but I’m still processing. Also, I want to see where it goes in book two. If you love high fantasy, magic schools, and intense worldbuilding based on historical civilizations, this will probably be a book for you.
The Will of the Many takes place in the Catenan Republic, which is inspired heavily by Ancient Rome. Here, people of lower castes cede something called “Will” (think their life-force) to those above them in the social pyramid (here they make literal pyramids, where those at the top cede to no one). This saps those at the bottom of their mental power and energy, while those above them receive exponential strength and magical abilities. The higher up this pyramid of Will you are, the more powerful you are both in society and physically. Our protagonist, Vis (not his real name), has refused to cede his Will to anyone, which makes him a bit of an anomaly. He is also an orphaned royal hiding in plain sight. After the Hierarchy (another name for the Republic) conquered his homeland and his entire family was killed, he went into hiding as an orphan. He is unexpectedly adopted by a Quintus (336 people cede Will to them), who wishes him to infiltrate their most prestigious academy and ferret out secrets.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and all of it is very entertaining. We have Vis’s arc, the conflict within him to succeed and make friends in the society that killed his family and is trying to wipe out his culture and way of life (plus some conflict without, in that a group of terrorists bent on bringing down the empire knows who he is and is trying to use him). We have the magic school setting, which was my favorite, where he has to navigate the complex politics of Hierarchy society, succeed in his classes, and survive to make it to the top of his class. Then we have the mystery of the Cataclysm, a mysterious event that basically ended the world 300 years before, killing 95 out of every 100 people alive, and decimating human knowledge and culture. The magic system is such a perfect fantasy metaphor for the way that caste systems and social inequality behaves in real life, I’m still thinking about it. And perhaps most importantly, this book had me both emotionally and intellectually pretty much from chapter one, and my engagement only increased the longer the book went on.
Highly, highly recommend this one!