The Awakening of Ren Crown
The Awakening of Ren Crown by Anne Zoelle (a pseudonym for a New York Times Bestseller) is the opening novel to an immersive journey into a re-imagined world of magic. Ren Crown is a quiet seventeen year old content to live in the shadow cast by her social butterfly of a twin brother. An artist passionate about her craft and a skilled lock-picker, Ren is finishing up her final year of high school and couldn't be happier. But when her world explodes in a crash of electricity and lightning, Ren realizes her senior year isn't going to be the carefree adventure she thought it would.
Reeling from the tragedy that tore her world apart, Ren exists in a perpetual state of apathy and distress, finding solace in the one area of her life that hasn't been taken away – her art. Under the direction and tutelage of her instructor, Mr. Verisetti, Ren continues to develop her art and finds joy in the newfound experience of creating her own paint. But then her world is shaken by another cataclysmic event, forcing Ren to uncover her biggest secret of all – the magic she didn't know she possessed. Amidst this discovery, Ren meets Will Tasky, the endearing mage obsessed with science and new discoveries, and together they unravel one of the many secrets of the magical world.
I was half a person now.
Ren and her parents are shocked and baffled by the revelation that magic is, in fact, real. Not only is it real, but there is an entire school dedicated to teaching mages how to develop and wield their magic. And it's in another world. Well, another layer of the world. The layers (numbered 1 through 5) are how Earth is separated – each layer is set spatially above, yet within, Earth, and possesses their own variations and quantities of available magic. And Ren is to go to the Second Layer and enter Excelsine, the prestigious school for mages. The Dean of Excelsine, Dean Marsgrove, explains all this and more to Ren and her parents, and then shuffles Ren away to the Second Layer.
Intent, focus, knowledge, confidence! Those are the keys to magic. You need all four to be proficient.
Not everything is as it seems, though, as Ren quickly realizes Dean Marsgrove wasn't entirely truthful in his explanation of how things will turn out once they arrive in the Second Layer. Concerned and apparently disturbed by Ren's magic, Marsgrove's interpretation of being enrolled in school isn't quite what Ren had in mind. But with a few tricks up her sleeve, Ren quickly finds a way to sneak in and join the other fifteen thousand students on Excelsine's campus, landing herself as the roommate of surly Olivia Price.
Still reeling from the catastrophic events back at home, Ren sets out to learn anything and everything about her magic – and desperately searches for a way to restore her world to its previous state of happiness. Much to her dismay, Ren discovers she is unable to use paint and every time she tries, she gets caught by the good-behavior enforcing students. After accruing one too many of these infractions, Ren is sentenced to become an enforcer herself, becoming a member of the notorious club – students who tend to bend (or flat out break) the rules and are sentenced to volunteer service. While on her rounds, Ren is delighted to learn there are many students who are willing to work around the rules and push the magical boundaries. And one student in particular catches Ren's eye – Constantine Leandred.
If sexuality could ooze off someone, this guy was constantly perspiring.
Constantine is a bad boy, exuding an aura of sexiness and danger, combined with a standoffish attitude intended to dissuade everyone from encroaching on his personal space. Ren quickly decides Constantine is a friend worth having, and they team up to work on a variety of not-so-legal devices and ideas. Olivia, who is finally warming up to Ren's attempts at friendship, vehemently opposes anything to do with Constantine. And when Ren runs into the boy with the startling aquamarine eyes, her world slams to a halt as she realizes just who Alexander Dare really is – and the role he played in the greatest tragedy of her life.
Constantly working to restore that loss, Ren pushes the limits of her magic, dabbling in practices that are questionable, to say the least. But while using her magic in these questionable ways, she is hopelessly unaware of the effects it has on the world around her. Strange things begin to happen on campus, and when she finally realizes where it is coming from, Ren will do anything to make things right.
The Awakening of Ren Crown is a story that takes a common theme – magic – and turns it on its head in a refreshing re-imagining. Think Harry Potter and the adventures at Hogwarts – if Hogwarts was a college and the magical abilities unique to every different mage. Anne Zoelle's imagination is boundless, bringing to life creatures and monsters that haven't been seen before, and putting a unique spin on some of the more familiar species. Splitting the world into different layers, each with its own levels and types of magic available, is a twist on the traditional Urban Fantasy world depiction.
Zoelle has brought to life some of my favorite fictional characters, creating individuals who feel real, genuine, and approachable. Ren is sweet and endearing, with an air of helplessness about her as she struggles to understand this new world and its differences. Despite her sense of loss, she perseveres and determinedly pushes forward in all her goals – whether that be learning how to use the reading rooms, trying new (and sometimes questionable) foods, or breaking through the wall of indifference her roommate has around her.
Food was going to have to suffice, unless I needed to suck out someone's essence out Dark Crystal style.
The supporting characters are equally well-developed. Olivia is terse and uninterested in anything but her studies, yet willing to let her guard down in the face of Ren's persistence. Will brings with him a sense of the mad scientist, breathless in his explanations and oblivious to the glazed over eyes of those subject to his ramblings. The bad guys are bad enough to make you grit your teeth in frustration and annoyance, while the secretive Alexander Dare is downright swoon worthy. Every story needs the sarcastic bad boy, the one who avoids relationships and has a persistent mysteriously dangerous aura around him, and Constantine Leandred fits the bill spectactularly.
The Awakening of Ren Crown is a breathtaking opener to an extraordinary series, one that instantly shot to the top of my favorites list. Zoelle has created such an imaginative and immersive world that I am constantly finding myself lost in my own imaginings of how things might be, or where the story will take us next. The entire concept of world layers is simply beautiful, while simultaneously being complex and Zoelle has brought her world to life in an incredible way.
If you haven't had the chance to read The Awakening of Ren Crown, you don't know what you are missing. Of all the books I have read in the last 10 years or so, this book – and the entire series – is solidly located at the top of my favorites list. Rich and colorful, adventurous and exciting, breathtaking and heartbreaking, this is one series you must read and will not regret.
And in the meantime, I would live. With hope.
Click the book covers below to read the reviews for the other books in the series!