This book ended up being much better than I'd expected it to be. Going into it, I imagined it would be another typical young adult fantasy novel. You know the type. The author tries just a bit too hard to make the main character relate-able to teenage boys, every female character throws herself at the main character, etc. None of that was the case in this book.
The story follows one plot line the entire way through. The entire book is focused on one character, Randall Miller. It doesn't jump between characters, or try to introduce fifty main characters into the mix. There's a main group of people who are essential to the plot, sure, but those who aren't essential only get a quick mention before the story moves on.
The magic system was interesting, and Randall's particular skill was fun, though a bit on the convenient side.
I loved that there wasn't any romance tacked on just to make the story appeal to a larger audience. This wasn't a story about Randall's love life, and the book reflects that every step of the way. There's the occasional joke about how bad Randall is with girls, but it never really goes beyond that.
For the final fight, Randall doesn't suddenly become a super-powerful god to destroy the villain. He wins because the villain knows that he's much stronger than Randall. Also, Randall doesn't walk away from the fight unscathed. He loses something in the fight, and by the end of the story he still doesn't get it back. There's no magical deus ex machina that makes everything the way it was. He remains broken. And that's the way it should be. A sacrifice ceases to be a sacrifice when you can easily get back what you gave up. (Which is why I despise magic girl manga/anime.)
I even wasn't too disappointed by the way the book ends. Several questions remain unanswered (like where that magic dagger came from), but overall it was an decent way to end the story.*
*I had originally thought that this was a stand-alone novel, but apparently a sequel is in the works. (http://www.llandra.com/index.php/category/touchofmagic/book-2/)