Spellwright review

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spellwright is the first novel by Blake Charlton, one of the contenders for the best debut of 2010 in fantasy. Plenty has been said about Charlton's dyslexia and it's really understandable since this is a though condition to be afflicted with when you're a writer and because a substantial part of his magic system is affected by this. I'll get to that later. The follow-ups to the trilogy will be called Spellbound and Disjunction.

Nicodemus Weal is a cacographer living in Starhaven, a school for mage apprentices. Cacography is dyslexia for spellwright (the magic users). The spells they touch get mixed up so they can't really become full wizards. However, some thinks that Nicodemus could be the spellwright spoken of in prophecy who could be the savior or the doom of humanity. When one of the teachers is killed during a gathering of magnus from the entire world, the apprentice will be suspected with his master. He'll be right at the center of events unfolding too fast for him with his future and the fate of the world in the balance.

This novel felt like good old fantasy, the kind originally representative of the genre. With the classic young apprentice touched by prophecy and old masters with long beards, the ground felt familiar. Judging by this, the book could almost be considered a YA novel, but I would tag it as for all ages instead, i.e. not specifically targeted towards the YA audience. You will find in Spellwright kobolds, druids, golems, avatars, gargoyles, dragons, familiars and demons. Everything you need to please the nostalgic fantasy reader.

Nicodemus is young, a bit reckless and leans toward the act without thinking type of personality. This gets him into all sorts of troubles and sometimes he felt a little dumb for me. In any case, I still wanted him to accomplish his goals, found him captivating, more so since his potential powers are limited by his cacography. The guy is struggling with his studies but he shows everyone what he is capable of, he goes against the odds. These last elements are surely representative of Charlton and I can't pass by the humanity in all this.

Some compelling supporting characters inhabit the universe created here. Among those is the obviously likable wise old magnus that serve as the father figure, a druid which seems to have a hidden agenda, a former student taking her work too seriously and the villain. The villain term can be applied directly in this case since his motivations are quite simply justified by the creation of a war which would make it possible for the demons to take over the human race.

Even though the story seems simple enough in the beginning, things get a bit more complicated. Nicodemus slowly discovers that his condition could be cured but then it could affect the schemes of every faction implicated in prophecy. The story itself revolves around the magic system. At times, it seemed even more important for the author than the tale he is trying to tell (although I have to admit that it's comprehensible since it's so much integrated into the world). I think the book could have profited from lesser time spent in explaining the system. The writing would have been more fluid. However, even though it's not flawless, it's imaginative enough to make us wonder abundantly. To put it simply, magical runes are created from the contraction of muscle in the arms. When theses runes are put together in words, sentences or whole books, they create spells.

As I said, the pace is occasionally slowed down by the magical system explanation. Nicodemus even teaches a class of youngster about it. However, mixed in with all the historical details and the creation of the gargoyles and golems, a nice layer of worldbuilding is created. Everything eventually connect together to create a rich good vs evil world. The battles and actions scenes derived from this are nicely described by the author, especially when gargoyles and golems are included. About these gargoyles, they are constructs created by the wizards. This idea is nicely exploited and is also applied to the golems used by the villain.

The aftermath was a notable problem for me. During a considerable amount of pages, we get to read about the years following the final battle. Nicodemus is training with a race we haven't seen before (and not heard of enough). So in a few chapters, I think there's too much evolution for the main protagonist... the hero won't be the same after that and it's too fast to grasp entirely. Maybe these chapters belonged to flashbacks in the second book or even as the first chapters and probably in a more detailed way.

In the end, the great new ideas Charlton included in his novel makes it a fresh classic fantasy delight. The book is not without flaws but it's entertaining enough to make me eager for the next one. The author writing is already fine by me so bring more bold concepts and a bigger scope.

Technically, since we are in the classic kind of fantasy book, I can't say anything bad about the overly used hooded man cover. The hardcover edition of the novel is 350 pages. The map included at the beginning of the book is simply beautiful and is also available on the web (link at the index).

Spellwright review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 8 / 10
Magic system................. 8 / 10
Story.............................. 7 / 10
Writing........................... 8 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Blake Charlton page


Simcha said...

I pretty much came to the same conclusion. While the book didn't really "wow" me, it did intrigue me enough that I am looking forward to the sequel.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I have heard of people who where rather wowed with the book and ones how enjoyed it, but felt nothing majorly special. I am still looking forward to getting the book here in the future and reading it. Sounds like an interesting premises for a magic system. Thanks!

Time4u Book Review said...

A great review and fair comments. spellwright is a decent enough debut novel of what may prove to be a good all round trilogy.

bloggeratf said...

Pretty much the same take on my end phil. Indeed, the ending did seem rushed/disjointed compared to the rest of the novel. Set that aside though, and there really isn't much that you can dislike about the book. While harmless might not be the best way to describe it, thats the way it felt to me.

Phil said...

Seems that pretty much every agrees on this one. Good enough to make the follow-up worth waiting for.

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