Summary: Who—or what—is stalking the students at Oakhurst Academy?
In the wake of the accident that killed her family, Spirit White is spirited away to Oakhurst Academy, a combination school and orphanage in the middle of Montana. There she learns she is a legacy—not only to the school, which her parents also attended, but to magic.
All the students at Oakhurst have magical powers, and although Spirit’s hasn’t manifested itself yet, the administrators insist she has one. Spirit isn’t sure she cares. Devastated by the loss of her family, she finds comfort with a group of friends: Burke Hallows, Lachlann Spears, Muirin Shae, and Adelaide Lake.
But something strange is going on at Oakhurst. Students start disappearing under mysterious circumstances, and the school seems to be trying to cover it up. Spirit and her friends must find out what’s happening—before one of them becomes the next victim…
Thoughts: If you read the description and think this sounds like Harry Potter for teens, you’re not far off the mark. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to that series when part of your premise is, “Person goes to a school for magic-users.” Doubly so when your main character is an orphan. So that colours the interpretation of the book right from the get-go; it’s just impossible to avoid.
That being said, there are plenty of departures from that concept that make accusations of it being derivative pretty much pointless. I can think of a handful of books that share similar starting points. That doesn’t make them all Harry Potter clones.
(Speaking of being derivative, though, I do feel compelled to mention that characters using guns loaded with rock salt seemed lifted wholesale from Supernatural. A clever idea, and I’m sure it’s been done elsewhere as well, but given that I personally saw it done first on that show, it seemed like a bit of a stale idea.)
The story follows Spirit White, and if that name causes you to roll your eyes, just know that it does the same thing for Spirit herself. After her parents and younger sister died in a tragic car crash, she found herself to be a Legacy, someone with a place at Oakhurst Academy. At least one of her parents attended school there, and due to a not-at-all-creepy policy, the school keeps track of all their former students and makes arrangements for their children should anything similarly tragic happen. Oakhurst, as you could tell from previous comments, is a school specifically for children who can do magic, so yes, you have a boarding school full of magic orphans. But students keep disappearing from Oakhurst. Not often, just a few a year. Most of the students accept this as a fact of life. Some troubled kids run away, so find their fortunes elsewhere. Nobody thinks twice about it. They have enough to do. But a suspicious Spirit and her friends think there’s more to it, and so set out to find out what’s happening to the missing Oakhurst students.
The biggest problem with this book is that it feels like half a novel. Spirit and friends do get to the bottom of why the students disappeared, but that felt more like a single episode of a TV show rather than a complete story arc. There were hints dropped of a much larger plot, one that seemed far more interesting than what everyone else was dwelling on. Why the headmaster of the school has a split personality, going from yelling tyrant to kindly doddering old man depending on the scene. Why, after what seems like a fairly routine disappearance, everyone starts acting like a war is beginning A war may be beginning, but those disappearances were either related to the Wild Hunt plotline, or else that whole plotline (and thus over half the novel) was a diversion and just pure coincidence. Why Spirit’s magic doesn’t manifest.
Why nobody seems to have put together that for a parent to have gone to Oakhurst in the first place, all of their family must have died too, leaving this giant bloody trail across generations.
So while the story and the twists on lore were interesting, it felt unsatisfactory and incomplete. And that was quite a let-down. Likely it was done as sequel-bait, leaving some dangling plot-threads to be picked up later, and I’m sure this book will appeal to people looking for some supernatural adventure involving kids with tragic pasts in an elite boarding school. As fluff fiction goes, it really wasn’t that bad. But I did expect more from it, especially with the tantalizing hints that were being dropped.
Another thing I do want to point out is that this book suffered from some weird assumptions and editing mistakes. Assumption-wise, I’m referring largely to a throw-away scene in which a character talks about creating holy water, and how it’s easy to make because really it just involves water being blessed by a believer. And Spirit’s thoughts essentially go, “Huh, I didn’t know he was a Christian.” At no point was a specific religion brought into it, and blessed water exists as part of different practices in multiple non-Christian religions. So it was a weird assumption, and I’m not sure if it speaks more to character bias or author bias. Could go either way.
As for editing mistakes… Oakhurst was refered to as Oakdale at one point. Spirit’s little sister, Phoenix, was called by the nickname Fee once, at the very end of the book, and after Spirit has thought about her dozens of times through the novel. This is the sort of stuff I expect to be caught in the editing stage of a book, and here, it just slipped by. And before anyone asks, no, it wasn’t an ARC or an uncorrected proof that I read. It was a finished release copy. These errors made it to the final version. Small, and also easy to ignore because they don’t affect the story, but they speak of poor quality control.
So overall? A decent YA adventure. It had its problems, but it was still pretty fun to read, and I’ll probably continue with the rest of the series just to see how the larger story plays out. But after this introduction, I don’t expect great things from it. I expect some fun, some quick reads, and a story that entertains but it largely forgettable, a take-it-or-leave-it series that is neither meant to nor does it leave an impact. Good for passing the time, good for those looking for some comfort fiction, but not for those looking for a book to really wow them.