Even though there’s an apple on the cover and “hunger” right there in the title, I didn’t take for granted there’d be food scenes in the book. Like I said in my BWATE? “mission statement,” people are hungry for everything from love to money, so I figured, based on the premise of a sequestered wizard-run academy that’s only open to sons of wealth and privilege and whose mission is to restore magic after a multi-century ban, the hunger here was more likely to be for power.
Well, each of the complex characters – both in 11-year-old Hahp’s story and that of Sadima, who lived generations before him but whose tale is interwoven with his – is hungry for something. Some yearn for love, some for knowledge or control; there’s even a gypsy woman who gets only the briefest mention as she passes along a book…and she’s doing it to satisfy a hunger for revenge against her father.
All that aside, the physical longing for food does take center stage after all. In this first book of a sort of Harry-Potter-enters-the-Hunger-Games series, young Hahp, the second – and therefore expendable – son of a wealthy merchant, has been left at the door of a “wizarding school” (substitute labyrinth of suffering between the bunny ears) with no expectation of success. Or even living. Only one of the ten students will graduate – and the first academic requirement is survival.
Can’t really get any darker than that. And yet, it does because it’s not just tests or challenges that Hahp has to face. The 10 boys in this “qualifying class” are told after a week of starvation that if they can’t magically manipulate a massive gem into conjuring up food, they won’t eat. And the wizards are dead serious.
Because it’s such a central part of the story, I won’t reveal when or by whom fare appears on the table. I will say that, although the apple from the cover brings the gift of life, it does not come without a price, and eating one a day is not the happy health-ensurer that the old adage makes it out to be. I, for one, am starving for books 2 and 3 of this trilogy!