The Mage of Shimmer Mountain by Adam Sampson

Ascension and Awakening follows the incredible journey of Hugo, a young man on the precipice of a life-altering journey, and his companion Marion as they traverse a treacherous mountain in pursuit of a life-changing ritual known as the soulmarking. Their quest is fraught with physical danger, complex decisions, and magic, with the soulmarking being a stepping stone to their desired magic domains.

The narrative kicks off with the duo braving mountainous obstacles and confronting bullies like Florin, an arrogant high-born, and battling menacing creatures such as the shimmer insects. Amidst these struggles, they reach the mountain plateau, the venue for the ritual. Despite their low chances of being soulmarked due to their outer circle positioning, they remain hopeful.

During the heartbeat ceremony, a ritual that’s part of the soulmarking process, the pair witness the life-and-death stakes as a girl dies during the event. Marion opts for a second chance at the ritual offered by a ritualist named Alexandru, despite the potential dangers. The secondary ritual proves to be a ruthless fight for survival, where participants battle for mana. Both Hugo and Marion successfully acquire a soulmark but are left shaken by the deadly reality of their choice.

In the aftermath, their descent from the mountain is marred by monster attacks, eventually leading them to a safe haven halfway down. Hugo grapples with the moral complexities of the ritual and the cost of his newfound abilities. The journey continues with confrontations with Florin’s parents, more monster encounters, and a train ride home fraught with danger from train jackers, a situation Hugo manages to foresee.

Once in Reval, Hugo’s home, he explores his soulmark, learning to access his stat screen, a significant aspect of his new magical identity, with the help of a kind grandmother. His return is bittersweet, filled with familial tension as he decides to follow his dreams of becoming a mage, in opposition to his mother’s wishes.

Hugo’s determination leads him to the Blue Lion Academy, where he has to navigate an overwhelming admissions process and the financial realities of becoming a mage. Choosing an indentureship program to afford his tuition, Hugo embarks on his academic journey, attending lectures, participating in physically grueling courses, and impressing peers with his innate abilities. Despite some dull history lessons on the Acamarians and the magic system, Hugo remains steadfast on his chosen path.

Hugo and Oskar undergoing the soulburning process, an excruciating ordeal meant to secure their magic domain. It’s an emotionally taxing event that leaves an indelible mark on both of them. With the insight gained from the ordeal, Hugo comprehends the significance of domain selection and distinguishes between mages and harvesters.

Challenges continue to mount as Hugo struggles to select three complimentary elements for his formation domain, requiring him to dig deep and consult the academy’s resources to make the right choice. This period also introduces Hugo to the social dynamics within the academy, and he grapples with his status within this new environment.

As he delves deeper into the academy’s teachings, Hugo learns about the concept of wards in barrier magic, witnesses potential theft, and even reconciles with his father’s friend, Marius. He also discovers the dangerous power of black bolts, a powerful magic attack capable of causing immense destruction, a skill he decides against pursuing.

The story takes a sharp turn when Hugo, seeking help from third-year student Mihai to contact hedge mages, encounters hostility due to Mihai’s deeply ingrained prejudice against them. This confrontation eventually escalates into a physical altercation, stopped only by the intervention of another student, Rasmus Jr. Despite his injuries and disappointment, Hugo maintains his resilience.

Simultaneously, Hugo’s personal life takes interesting turns with romantic undertones when Alice, a fellow student, reveals that a friend of hers has taken a liking to Hugo. This new revelation sparks Hugo’s curiosity and adds a layer of intrigue to his journey.

The plot intensifies as Hugo participates in a culling trip, a monster-hunting exercise, where his newly improved crossbow proves vital in defending against a swarm of strix. However, the trip is overshadowed by tragedy when several students lose their lives, an incident that deeply affects Hugo, inducing guilt and sparking further determination.

The narrative continues with Hugo causing an accidental explosion while experimenting with a mithril/titanium alloy. This incident leads to a rift between Hugo and Oskar, resulting in them parting ways. However, Hugo’s relentless pursuit of progress leads him to successfully create a crossbow bolt with the explosive alloy.

The second part of the novel concludes with the excitement of the Azad tournament, where Hugo’s bet on Mia to win pays off. The euphoria of the victory, coupled with the responsibility of his newfound wealth, leaves Hugo in a reflective state, contemplating his unique abilities and the secrecy surrounding them.

In their barrier class, Hugo and Elise uncover a new approach to control their barrier skills. Using mathematics, they innovate a technique that they believe might be more effective than the traditional methods taught by Sage Parem. Their discovery leads them to question the Sage about why he doesn’t incorporate math into the curriculum.

Unfortunately, Hugo falls into a trap laid by his former roommate, Oskar, and some rogue hedge mages. The quick-thinking Hugo, with Daniela’s help, narrowly escapes capture. This event triggers a series of discussions with Dean Artjom about the threat posed by the hedge mages, leading to the dean involving the sentinel command to safeguard the city.

Hugo and his group go on a culling trip where they encounter and successfully defeat a purple worm. They develop a new strategy involving grenades to handle such threats more efficiently in the future.

During a relaxed gathering in the forest, a mercenary disrupts their peace and attacks the group. Hugo, in an attempt to protect his friends, leads the mercenary away. After a thrilling chase, he manages to evade his pursuer.

Later, Hugo finds himself in a face-off with the mercenary. Using his wit and magic, he manages to defeat the attacker, ensuring the safety of his friends.

Hugo, Mia, and Dean Artjom present their findings about the hedge mages’ plans to the sentinel command. Their shared knowledge and the potential threat it poses is taken seriously, leading to a strategic action plan.

Hugo attempts to dissuade his old roommate Oskar from dealing with ravim, a dangerous drug. However, Oskar refuses, leading to his potential expulsion. Hugo suggests an alternative punishment, hinting at an opportunity to catch the real drug dealers.

A meeting with Alexandru reveals surprising information about Shimmer Mountain. The mountain, they learn, is an ancient machine causing unnatural explosions due to a cascade failure in the shimmer veins.

Hugo and Mia’s attendance at an azad match is disrupted by an earthquake. Hugo recognizes it as an attack orchestrated by Deva.

Finally, Hugo attends a New Year’s Eve party at sentinel command. Here, he receives a protective vest from Lenna Koppel. However, the festivities turn chaotic when hedge mages launch an attack. In the ensuing battle, Hugo, wearing the protective vest, is forced to leap off a balcony to evade the attackers. Simultaneously, a shimmer vein explosion on Shimmer Mountain triggers a series of other explosions, causing widespread destruction. As a result, Hugo is thrown back in time, but this time, he finds himself in a Nox body instead of Cristian’s.