Spellwright surprised me. It was a book I’d been looking forward to for some time but when I got into it the first few chapters disappointed me. Thankfully, I stuck to it and was rewarded with a truly excellent debut from Blake Charlton. Once I’d read enough I was hooked— the originality and the lovable-ness of the characters made it hard not to—and I very soon finished the book. Published by Tor at the beginning of the month, Spellwright is one of the new releases of early 2010 that has been most talked about on the internet (with good reason).
Blurb: Nicodemus Weal has trained at the wizardly stronghold of Starhaven since he was a boy. His mentor, the famous wizard Agwu Shannon, taught him how to cast spells made from luminescent magical runes, how to peel written words off a page and make them physically real, how to protect himself with defensive paragraphs, and how to thrust sharp-ly worded sentences at an enemy. Initially, Nicodemus showed great promise. Able to forge magical runes with great speed, he was once thought to be the Halcyon—a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent the apocalypse known as the Disjunction. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell. Every time he touched a magical text, he unintentionally corrupted it, turning a useful spell into a dangerous, potentially deadly misspell. Even now, at twenty-five, Nicodemus’s problem remains so bad that he is allowed to use his magic only for janitorial tasks. While his peers advance as wizards, he is still an apprentice, living with other disabled spellwrights and reading knightly romances that fuel his dreams of escape and adventure. When a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Nicodemus and Shannon both are suspected. Worse, Nicodemus dreams of a foreign city under attack from an ancient, godlike spell…and wakes to find Starhaven abuzz with the news of that city’s actual destruction. A second nightmare makes Nicodemus begin to question his own sanity. Where there are more mysterious deaths, the authorities hunt him as a murderer. Tormented and desperate, Nicodemus has no choice but to flee his pursuers so that he can discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic…and himself.
As I said in my intro, Spellwright took a while for me to get into. It is a sense a testament to Charlton’s originality in creating the magic system that he did that I had trouble understanding it at first. Let me first explain that what Charlton did with his magical languages and how they are used is a concept I’d never really thought of (though things similar to it have cropped up before), or at least not at this level of depth. Often fantasy authors will capitalize a common word they use in their books to describe their magic. That’s something Charlton didn’t do and at first it lead to some pretty confusing passages when he talked about writing, editing, constructs, paragraphs, etc. Not only that but he also didn’t give the reader much in the way of an explanation of how the magic worked until a few chapters into the book—something I don’t usually mind (since long explanations in the beginning are boring) but in this case the magic featured prominently in the majority of the scenes. Of course as it always does, it all fell into place and I learned to identify and understand (as much as Charlton wants us to at this point) how the magic worked, and it eventually added greatly to the value of the plot.
There is also an element of depth to the world that Charlton created that I may not, at first, have appreciated. As this back-story unfolds, the interest factor of the main intrigue, of course, increases exponentially. We come to realize, like in a lot of epic fantasy, that we’ve only figured out a miniscule fraction of a world of seemingly infinite proportions. The story itself does not stand out as extraordinary—it’s good but not that good. It gets us to want more but a lot of times other aspects caught my attention more.
The truly winning factor of Spellwright is how relatable Nicodemus is. He’s not at all your typical epic fantasy, prophesied child kind of character. Instead of going on a quest to gain all these crazy abilities (as our aforementioned typical heroes do) Nicodemus pretty much already has quite a lot of magical ability, except that he can’t use it properly and there is no predicted, foolproof way of fixing that (as would typically happen), though he may still give it a try. If anything, his abilities degrade as the story goes on. The fact that he is set apart, both by others and himself makes him indefinably relatable. Charlton ties it in with his own childhood growing up with dyslexia, as Nicodemus can’t “spell” the magical languages correctly to create “spells” (see what I mean by the ambiguity?).
I have to acknowledge the fact that what I thought were, at first, faults with the book, actually turned out to add to it and differentiate it from others in the genre. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, but for a first novel, I’d say Charlton did a pretty fine job. Anyone can pick this one up. It’s currently out in the US (that I know for sure) and if it’s not already than it should be soon in the UK also. Spellwright is the first in a trilogy, the sequel being Spellbound, of which Charlton will soon be posting sample passages on his own website soon. Honestly, make sure to add this book to your to-read list because its one you’ll most likely feel guilty to have missed out on.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Violence: Some, a lot of magical fighting/dueling
Sex/Language: No language, some very vague allusions to sex
Blake Charlton's Website: http://www.blakecharlton.com/