Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spellwright by Blake Charlton

Posted by Simcha 5:20 PM, under | 8 comments

In a world where magic is wielded through the use of written words, there is no real place for a boy who can't spell. Nicodemus Weal can't even touch a magical spell without horribly corrupting it, which is why at the age of twenty five he is still an apprentice at the University, rather then a wizard, like his peers. And to make matters worse, Nicodemus will forever be plagued with the knowledge that he could have been the prophesied hero, the Halcyon, were it not for his disability. So instead of training to become a powerful wizard, Nicodemus's magic is limited to janitorial tasks and his adventures remain confined to the pages of the knightly romances that he reads in bed each evening.

The quiet pace of Nicodemus's life is suddenly shattered when wizards and students start turning up dead, murdered by corrupt spells. Suspicion immediately falls on Nicodemus and his mentor, the Wizard Shannon, for they are the most knowledgeable about this dangerous magic. Soon Nicodemus finds himself being hunted down as a possible murderer, though it's the rumors about his role in the prophesied war of Disjunction that have authorities wanting him dead.

Though amidst all the danger and chaos, a ray of hope suddenly appears for Nicodemus when a visiting dignitary offers him the chance to be rid of his disability, making it possible for him to become the hero he was meant to be.

I had been eager to read Spellwright ever since I first read about it on the Tor website, many months ago. I love fantasies that employ creative magic systems, and a system of magic based on words and writing sounded like something I would really enjoy. Plus, the idea of a dyslexic protagonist within such a magic system, immediately intrigued me.

In the opening scene of the book we are immediately treated to a demonstration of the dangerous power of words in this world, and successfully drawn into the story through this powerful introduction.

    The grammarian was choking to death on her own words. And they were long sharp words, written in a magical language and crushed into a small ball. Her legs faltered. She fell onto her knees…She tried to scream, but gagged on the words caught in her throat.

    He flicked the golden sentences into Nora's chest. She could do nothing but choke.

    "What's this?"he said with cold amusement."Seems my attack stopped that curse in your mouth."He paused before laughing, low and breathy. "I could make you eat your words."

    Pain ripped down her throat. She tried to gasp...

    With five small cracks, the sentences in her throat deconstructed and spilled into her mouth. She fell onto her hands and spat out the silver words. They shattered on the cobblestones.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is Charlton's deliciously vivid descriptions of the wizards' use of magic. Through his writing I could almost hear the sharp crackle of words being shaped and nearly see them flash in the air as they take form. While reading the paragraph above I could easily imagine the pain of sharp-edged words lodged within my own throat.
    By tensing his bicep, he forged several runes within his arm. He could see the silvery language shine through skin and sinew. Tensing his bicep again, he joined the letters into a sentence, which he let spill into his forearm.

    With a wrist flick he cast the simple spell into the air, where it twisted like a tendril of glittering smoke. He extended his arms and cast the sentence onto the nape of the monkey's neck.

The problem though is that right from the beginning Charlton starts throwing around magical terminology that the reader is not yet familiar with and so for a while I had trouble following what was going on. The magic is rather complex and detailed and much of the book involves familiarizing the reader with the magic, which can get a bit tiresome at times. Sometimes this information is given over thorough discussions between wizards, and once in a class given by Nicodemus, so it's not all dumped on the reader at one time, but it still caused the book to drag in some places.

Pacing was another issue that I had with the book. There were parts of Spellwright that had me completely hooked and then I would reach points in the story where I would put the book down and not pick it up for several days. I particularly recall this happening towards the end, when I would put the book down every couple of sentences and then wait until the next day to read a couple more sentences, until after a few pages when I finally reached a point where the story hooked me again and I was able to finish it easily. But because of this uneven pacing I wasn't able to really lose myself in the story.

There was one other aspect of the book that I was rather disappointed with, and that was the development of the main character, Nicodemus Weal. Charlton had provided Nicodemus with a rich array of materiel with which he could have become a strong and complex character. Nicodemus carries the weight of a disability and a failed prophecy, as well as being practically an orphan (always good material for a fantasy), but rather then becoming embittered by any of this, Nicodemus seems to have accepted these challenges and quietly gone on with his life. That is, until Nicodemus discovers that he may actually be able to cure his disability and be able to fulfill his prophecy, and for the first time we see him express some dissatisfaction with his current situation. But while these events could have been used to explore Nicodemus's inner struggles more deeply and help his character evolve and progress, he remains disappointingly mild and seems barely affected, despite the occasional angry outburst. I was particularly surprised by this since Charlton himself had struggled with severe dyslexia, as a child, and I had expected to see some of his own frustrations and struggles reflected in Nicodemus. And so, while I had enjoyed Nicodemus's character at the start of the book, towards the end I had grown rather impatient with him which lessened my overall enjoyment of the book.

While Spellwright had ended up falling short of the high expectations I had for it, there was enough good material here that I would not hesitate to pick up the sequel, when it comes out. Though I do hope that with all of the lengthy magical explanations out of the way, the next novel will have a smoother narration and a stronger focus on character development.

This review goes towards the Once Upon A Time Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings


Oh no! I've heard great things about this but I get really frustrated by lengthy discussions. So it may not be a good read for me. Hmm... Did the magic system at least seem reasonable and intuitive?

Great review by the way.

Nice logical and balanced review...

I have seen mixed reviews about this book most of them above a 3 star, which is good since hes such a great guy, darn cute too.

I did an interview with him at my blog. Tons of fun.

I'm looking forward to reading his book soon.

I also love books with creative spell use! This looks fantastic, even if it did fall short of your expectations. I think I might give it a read nonetheless, if I can find a copy!

I'm sorry this disappointed you, but the premise just sounds so cool that I am still very interested in reading it. I love the idea :-)

I'm sorry that it wasn't everything you wanted it to be but it does sound a little promising. thanks for the review and bringing it to my attention. I may have to check this one out sometime soon.

sorry to hear about the book having those slow areas, especialy towards the end when the book should pick up and make you not want to put it down.. had high hopes for this book myself.. I will think on it a while ..thanks for the review

If any of you think that this books sounds like something you would like then I definitely think that you should give it a try. It's quite possible that the issue that I had with the book won't bother you at all.

Wonderbunny: The magic system was one of my favorite parts of the book, though as I mentioned it the review, the explanations of it took up quite a bit of the book.

Shellie: I've seen Blake Charlton around on Twitter and he seems like a really great guy. I had wanted to interview him as well but wasn't sure if I should, due to my mixed feelings about the book. But I'm going to come over and check out your review soon.

Brizmus: I imagine it would be hard to get a copy of this book in Japan, though I'll be doing a giveaway for it soon so you can have a chance to win it there.

Aarti: There were some very cool ideas in this book, such as magicians being authors and all creations being made up of an ancient language...Which is why I'll probably read the sequel, even though I found this book somewhat disappointing.

Ryan: If you do read it, I look forward to hearing your opinion of it and if you agree with my assessment at all.

Deslily: Yes, I did find the end kind of strange, with the pacing and some of the events that take place, though there are some interesting twists, which I always enjoy. Let me know if you do decide to read Spellwright, as I'd be very interested in hearing what you thought of it.

I have been wanting to get this book too. I really appreciate your honest thoughts on the book. I still have it on my list. :) But now I know what to keep an eye out for. Thanks again!

Hope your doing well.

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving a comment!
I love hearing from you and I'll do my best to respond as soon as I can.


Book Reviews

Blog Archive

Blog Archive