ARC Review: A DOOR IN THE DARK (Waxways #1) by Scott Reintgen (2023)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: March 28, 2023
Buy Links: | Unabridged Books |

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an eARC from NetGalley
Content warning: necromancy, drinking, drug use, dead parent (father), classism, colonialism, blood, body horror, vomiting, torture, violence against animals (cats, dogs)

Ren Monroe is top of her class at Balmerick University, but in terms of family status, she’s towards the bottom. Hoping to elevate her prospects, she’s interviewing with the city’s top families for a job. Her plans get put on hold, however, when an argument in one of the waxways, travel portals, sends her and a handful of her classmates on an adventure trying to get back to Kathor, despite the deadly magic and fantastic beasts interrupting their journey.

A fun magic system with something to say about class differences between students for whom success is guaranteed by family connections and those who claw their way to the top, this dark academia has all the trappings of a fantasy adventure including kobolds & wyverns as well as an exploration of the opportunities and privileges unevenly doled out

A Door in the Dark is a young adult novel in that the kids feel young, despite being in college and somewhat older on the age range. There’s a worldliness lacking that goes in the way of cooperation, but also some recreational drug use and partying that makes the earlier parts of the story feel very grounded in a school experience that might be familiar to some readers. The added awareness of how students conduct themselves given their positions adds nice nuance to scenes that start frivolous and escalate in seriousness quickly. The fun in this work has a lot of depth to it, and I found myself lost in a fantasy world that has social tensions that feel pulled from the real world.

It seems that in dark academia, when the main character is an outsider to the ivy-covered halls, there’s not much acknowledgement of the otherness aside from its effect on the plot and the character’s abilities to move from beat to beat. While Ren is brilliant, part of her character journey is her stark awareness of how her class affects her opportunities, regardless her proficiency at magic or school. This does influence some of the conflict, but largely serves as a point of tension among Cora, Timmons, Theo, and Avy that simmers as they try to make their way back to Balmerick.

Among fantasy readers and fans, there are discussions of hard and soft magic systems. This one does something really cool in that the magic system is codified but, much like science in the real world, there are spells and cantrips that make sense for those more adept and some that have been lost to history altogether. There’s a discussion of the legality of certain spells in the context of survival, and the way our party navigates who’s allowed to do what is always in conversation with social norms and class privilege. It’s as intricate as the political worldbuilding. Given that the party consists of students with different proficiencies and social strata, there are opportunities for them to discuss execution and theory, especially as they have to ration magic bucks called ockleys. Having this kind of restriction makes the adventure portion feel a bit like a D&D campaign, but in a way that feels organic to a more grounded world.

Though this adventure has an ending, there’s much more that Ren has to do, and I’m so excited to see what she’s up to next.


One thought on “ARC Review: A DOOR IN THE DARK (Waxways #1) by Scott Reintgen (2023)

  1. Pingback: March 2023 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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