Exclusive excerpt from Blake Charlton's SPELLWRIGHT


Many people seem to feel that Blake Charlton's Spellwright (Canada, USA, Europe) could be the fantasy debut of 2010. The novel has garnered a number of rave reviews, so time will tell if that's the case.

Excerpts have been available for some time on the author's website, but Charlton agreed to provide an exclusive extract in the hope that it will pique your curiosity and entice you to give Spellwright a shot.

Enjoy!
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This is an epic fantasy that takes place in a world where certain written languages can be made physically real by magic-users known a spellwrights. During a great Convocation in the wizardly academy of Starhaven, a powerful author is murdered. Suspicion and intrigue run high among the different factions. For a more detailed introduction to the story and world, you can read the book’s prologue and first four chapters (~40 pages) on the Free Reads page of my website: http://www.blakecharlton.com/freereads/.

In this scene, the Grand Wizard Agwu Shannon investigates the private library of his recently murdered colleague, Magistra Nora Finn. Shannon is an ancient wizard, whose eyes have become blind to everything but magical text. He must see the mundane world though the eyes of his familiar, the parrot Azure. Also of note, Shannon has recently taken on a disabled apprentice named Nicodemus Weal. Nico is a cacographer, meaning that though able to produce magical runes, he cannot place them in the correct order to make a spell. Worse, any magical text he touches instantly misspells, sometimes dangerously so. A survivor of many academic in-fights, Shannon believes he’ll quickly get to the bottom of the present matter and escape the suspicion that has fallen on him. He’s about to discover that the situation is far more complicated than he ever imagined.

Blake Charlton
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The Gimhurst Tower stood at the southern edge of Starhaven’s inhabited quarters. Long ago, during the Lornish occupation, it had hosted the Lord Governor’s court. Now, save for the scriptorium at its top, the place was abandoned.

With Azure perched on his shoulder, Shannon stole down the tenth floor’s outer hallway. Through the parrot’s eyes, he regarded the pale moonbeams that slanted through the windows and splashed against the slate floors. The reflected glow lit the hallway’s opposite wall and its many sculpted panels. The low- relief carvings presented typical Lornish sensibility— bold and graceful figures without fine detail.

Slowly Shannon passed carved knights, serpents, and seraphs—these last wreathed with tattered gold leaf halos.

A half hour before, Azure had returned to his study after delivering his message to Nicodemus. She had seen nothing unusual on the rooftops. This had only increased Shannon’s anxiety for information and so prompted his current expedition.

To his left a space between two panels presented a short, wooden door. Shannon placed Azure on a windowsill opposite and instructed her to send a warning if anyone appeared. A rook’s croaking voice came from somewhere out in the night. He turned back to the door. Behind it lay Nora Finn’s “private library.”

Many academics, rightly distrustful of their peers, hid their most important manuscripts in well- defended secret archives. Maintaining such “private libraries” violated scores of academy bylaws, but the practice was so widespread that no dean or provost dared enforce any of those laws.

Fifty years ago, a newly arrived Shannon had suspected Nora of spying on him for his enemies in the North. He had been brash then, still accustomed to Astrophell’s infighting, and so had secretly pried into every aspect of Nora’s life. His search had disproved his suspicions and uncovered the location of this private library.

Slowly Shannon ran his finger down the door before him. Blindness prevented him from seeing the pine boards that felt so hard under his fingers.

This was just as well; the boards weren’t really there. They were subtexts— prose crafted to elude even the trained eye. Most spellwrights struggled to glean subtexts if only because they believed their eyes. When encountering a door’s texture or image, a human mind rarely accepted any conclusion other than that the door existed. Only with knowledge of the author’s purpose could a reader hope to see past a subtext’s semblance to its true meaning.

Shannon, however, was free of vision’s tyranny. He stared into the dark before him and considered how Nora would have written the subtext. First she would have chosen a primary language. Numinous was the obvious choice— it possessed the ability to create illusions by bending light. To the spell’s central passages, Nora must have added a few Magnus paragraphs to provide a physical barrier and give texture to the illusion.

After choosing her languages, Nora would have chosen particular sentence structures and diction to help her hide the spell.

Shannon ruminated on Nora’s prose style. As he did so, he saw faint golden runes float downward in ordered columns. Now he deduced what must be written between the lines. The faint sentences brightened. Slowly the text’s central argument revealed itself, and Shannon gazed upon a door- shaped waterfall of golden prose interlaced with silver sentences.

Out of habit, he undid the silver and gold buttons that ran down his sleeves. His eyes could now see through cloth, but it still felt more natural to spellwrite with arms bare.

Once ready, he wrote a short disspell in his right forearm and slipped it into his hand. This disspell, though composed of powerful Numinous runes, was thin and delicate. Lesser authors would have crafted their most powerful disspell and hacked through the door- subtext like a peasant chopping a tree trunk. Such a crude style would have produced a mangled subtext.

Shannon had spent too many decades sharpening his prose to leave behind such obvious evidence.

With the disspell complete, Shannon drew the text from his palm so it could fold into its proper conformation. This done, he wrote a brief handle onto the blade.

Then, holding the disspell as if it were a paintbrush, he leaned forward and chivvied its cutting edge between two of the door’s sentences. With slow, patient pressure he teased apart the subtext’s outer sentences to reveal its knotted central passage. Two quick strokes split one of its paragraphs.

With a high grinding whine, the door’s golden sentences began to churn as they detected the intrusion and sought to clamp down on Shannon’s hand.

But with calm determination, he edited two new Numinous sentences into the split paragraph. The grinding sound died and the subtext quieted.

With steady pinching motions, he darned the central passage. As his hand slowly withdrew, the glassy sentences flowed back into their original conformation.

A smile curled Shannon’s lips. The arch- chancellor himself wouldn’t know the subtext had been edited. The door clicked softly as it unlocked and swung open. Behind it stood a small space filled with the multichromatic gleam of a magical library.

Shannon cast a quick spell to Azure asking if she had seen anything. The parrot answered negatively and complained of the late hour. Smiling at her snappishness, Shannon left her on the windowsill to keep lookout and then stepped into Nora’s private library. He would not need mundane vision in such a textual environment.

It was a small space: five feet wide, ten deep. Though Shannon could not see the bookshelves that lined the walls, he recognized many of the texts they held. Nora had been studying textual exchanges between Starhaven’s gargoyles— a subject that provided insight into how magical constructs learned and thought. Shannon’s research also focused on textual intelligence; as a result, he possessed many of the same books that Nora had in her private library.

One unfamiliar codex attracted his eye. It lay alone at the back of the room, apparently on a low shelf or chest. Carefully he stepped to the library’s end and retrieved the manuscript. It was Nora’s personal research journal.

He flipped through the first few pages. Here lay a detailed study of how gargoyles selected information to share with each other. If he could take this book to his study for just one hour, his own research would leap forward. He had made any number of offhand remarks to other wizards about how much he should like to peruse Nora’s notes.

Virtue briefly fought ambition in his heart. “I’ll regret this tomorrow,” he grumbled as morality forced him to continue to flip through the book rather than take it away. Toward its end, he found a personal journal with dated entries.

The majority were complaints about librarians, apprentices, colleagues. Twice he scowled at disparaging remarks about “that blustering Shannon.”

It wasn’t until he reached a date eleven years past that an entry lifted his eyebrows: “Missive from Spirish noble. Wanted ‘to see his sleeping boy.’ His father? Boy new to D.Tower. Payment in gold sovereigns.”

The next winter, Nora had written, “Spirish master to see sleeping boy in D.Tower.” Two days later, “Spirish payment.”

“Los’s fiery blood! Nora was in a noble’s purse?” Shannon whispered. The bribing of wizards was rampant in Astrophell and Starfall Keep. But Starhaven, as the only academy removed from the human kingdoms, had known little of such corruption.

Shannon wondered if he’d become soft. Despite competing academically with Nora, he had stopped investigating her private affairs—something he would have found unthinkable in Astrophell.

He reread the journal entries. The “D.Tower” clearly was the Drum Tower. But why would someone pay to see a sleeping boy? It seemed that Nora had supposed the man to be his father.

Shannon frowned at the phrase “Boy new to D.Tower” and thought about which cacographers had moved into the Drum Tower eleven years ago.

A sudden chill ran through his veins. Nicodemus was the only one.

Worse, that was the year the academy had judged Nicodemus’s cacography to be proof that he wasn’t the Halcyon.

“Creator be merciful,” Shannon whispered. Perhaps the academy had misjudged Nicodemus’s connection to the Erasmine Prophecy. If so, then these were the last days before the War of Disjunction— the final battle to save human language from demonic corruption.

Shannon continued to flip through the book. Two more entries, each four years apart, read “Master to see boy” and were followed by “Spirish Payment.” The final entry, dated two days ago, read “Master’s msg confused? No meeting but Strange Dreams about such.”

Whoever had been bribing Nora had changed how he was to meet her. Had he then pushed her off the Spindle Bridge?

Shannon turned the final page and drew a sudden breath. Written hastily across the page was a sharply worded spell. The dangerous text shone with the brilliant silvery light of Magnus.

On their flat sides, Magnus runes were as hard as steel; on their edges, sharp as razors. Depending on their conformation, a Magnus sentence could become a nearly unbreakable rope or a deadly blade. Even a casual Magnus attack spell could kill, and the one before Shannon was far from casual. He had not seen such linguistic weaponry since the Spirish Civil War.

“Burning heaven, Nora,” he swore while closing the journal. “What viper’s nest did you wander into?”

He reached down to touch the wood that the research journal had lain upon. It was a bed chest. His hands felt around the object and found it unlocked.

The hinges creaked as the lid opened. His fingers felt for the chest’s contents and found coins of an unmistakable weight. There was enough gold to buy a Lornish castle.

After closing the chest, he stood and tried to think systematically. Nora had attached herself to an exceedingly wealthy nonacademic, one who wanted to see a sleeping Drum Tower boy, beginning just when Nicodemus had been declared a cacographer. That implied, but did not prove, that Nicodemus was the one Nora’s master wanted.

Shannon also knew that Nora’s master was either a Spirish noble or had convinced Nora that he was.

Shannon blinked. The only Drum Tower boy descended from Spirish nobility was Nicodemus.

This still did not prove that Nora had been selling access to Nicodemus, but it made it highly probable. And if the academy had been wrong and Nicodemus was indeed connected to the Erasmine Prophecy . . .

“Heaven defend us all,” Shannon whispered and turned to leave the library, but as he moved some instinct stopped him.

As before, the corridor of spellbooks appeared as a wall of multicolored light to his magically sensitive eyes, while the mundane world was black to him. He had received no warning from Azure, nor had he heard anything unusual. But somehow, he knew.

“Who’s there?” he whispered.

At first only silence answered him. But then came a slow intake of breath and a low, crackling voice: “Write not a sentence,” it rasped before drawing another breath, “or you’ll eat your words.”

* * *

Shannon did not move. Nora’s research journal was still in his hands.

“Lay the book down,” the voice said, “slowly.”

Shannon bent over to obey, but just before dropping the codex he let his hands slip so that he held only the back cover. He set it on the floor. “You are Nora’s murderer?” he asked and straightened.

“The shrew killed herself before I had the chance.” A grunt. “It’s a recurring problem for me. I killed my master before he named the boy. I won’t make the same mistake with you.”

Shannon tried to discern where the voice was coming from. “Your master was the noble who paid to see the sleeping cacographer?”

There came another whistling inhalation and a short, dry laugh. “So the old beast replenished the emerald when the boy was asleep? Yes, it was he who had an agreement with Magistra Finn. One she didn’t renew with me for . . . squeamish reasons.”

Shannon narrowed his eyes. The room’s echo made it difficult to guess the murderer’s location. “Squeamish because you’re not human?”

“How could you tell?”

“You inhale only before speaking,” Shannon replied as calmly as he could. “The rest of us find that difficult.”

The creature laughed. “Full marks for acumen, Magister. I am not human, nor was master. Though he could fool your kind into thinking so.”

“The subtextualization of your prose is impressive. Which faction wrote you?”

The creature laughed louder. “Perhaps I spoke too soon about your acumen. I am not a construct, nor do I care a whit for the wizardly factions.”

“You’re a demon, then?”

“Not a demon either, but I don’t have time for this. What matters now is your name. My guess is that you are Magister Agwu Shannon, Master of the Drum Tower. If so, I have an offer for you.”

“I am Magister Shannon,” he replied slowly. “And I’m afraid I might share Nora’s squeamishness.”

“I’d rather the boy lived,” the voice croaked. “The stronger he is, the more I gain from the emerald. I’m telling you this so you can understand how . . . lucrative it would be to align yourself with me. Tell me the boy’s name and you and I might continue as master and Nora Finn did. Let me visit the boy when he’s sleeping— as you put it— and I’ll pay you twice Finn’s wages. Refuse and I will kill you now. What’s more, I’ll cripple the boy or be forced to kill him outright.”

Shannon swallowed hard. He had not considered that Nicodemus’s life, as well as his own, might end to night.

“You care for the boy,” the voice observed wryly. “More than I can say about the grammarian. She cared for what he is, not who.”

“And what is he? Is he the one of the Erasmine Prophecy?”

The murderer grunted. “Few things are more annoying than ignorance.”

Shannon laughed “And yet you are ignorant of the boy’s name.”

“I might not know his name, but I will kill every male cacographer in this academy to find him. I can wield dreams as you might wield a net. So unless you want every boy in the Drum Tower murdered, you’ll accept my offer.”

Shannon glanced down at Nora’s research journal. Its back cover lay open. The grammarian’s sharply worded spell glowed on the exposed page.

“Do you need more incentive?” the voice asked. “There are rewards brighter than gold. With the emerald, I am master of Language Prime. I could tell you how the Creator made humanity.” There was a pause. “You do know what Language Prime is, don’t you?”

Shannon responded automatically. “Language Prime is blasphemy.”

A dry laugh. “Magister, you lack conviction! You must know that the original language exists. Interesting. What might your connection to the first language be? I could teach you more.”

Shannon shook his head. “Villain, you have no spell written, no attack ready. My synaesthetic reaction is very sensitive. I would have felt you forging.”

There came a shuffling noise. “True; I haven’t a text ready, nor can I spellwrite within Starhaven’s walls. The Chthonics filled this place with too many metaspells. But it’s not words with which I threaten you; it’s a half foot of sharpened iron I’ll drive through your skull before you can extemporize two words.”

The murderer was right. Shannon could not dash off a spell in time.

“Enough banter,” the creature hissed. “You can accept my offer or force me to kill every boy in—”

Shannon dove to the floor. Something whistled above his head and struck the wall behind him with a clang. He grabbed hold of the Magnus spell in Nora’s book and pulled.

The wartext leaped from the page into an effulgence of silver runes. Shannon did not know the spell’s name or how to wield it, so he blindly threw his arm out toward the voice. The text uncoiled into a long, liquid lash and struck with serpentine quickness.

The murderer cried out with surprise as the silvery text struck a bookshelf. The spell cut through several leather- bound codices with a loud ripping sound.

With a blast of air, each severed spellbook exploded into a blazing nimbus of sentence fragments. Shannon flinched, the brilliance dazzling his text- sensitive eyes.

Then the murderer was on top of him. The universe became a seething blackness of elbows and knees as they rolled over one another. A hand was trying to pull the Magnus spell from Shannon’s hand, and then a hard object cut a line of pain across his forehead.

Yawping savagely, Shannon jerked his right hand free and whipped the Magnus spell around. It cut though something with a soft swish.

Instantly the weight lifted from Shannon’s chest. The room filled with a high, keening scream. When Shannon sat up, a page of golden text shot toward him. He recognized the page as belonging to Nora’s research journal the instant before it smashed into his nose. The murderer must have struck him with the book.

Suddenly he was on his back and struggling to get up. His head felt full of cotton and his ears were ringing. Deconstructing sentence fragments coated every inch of the private library’s floor and walls. The fragments were squirming, spinning, and leaping into the air.

Beyond the chaos, Shannon saw Nora’s research journal flying away into a patch of darkness that must be the hallway. The inhuman scream began to fade.

Slowly he realized what he was seeing: the murderer had taken Nora’s journal and fled.

All around Shannon the deconstructing fragments began to burst. Each small explosion flung phrases across the room. The sharp language cut into his mind and body with hot shards of pain.

Desperately, Shannon felt around the floor for any clue as to why the murderer had fled. His fingers found something long and partially surrounded by cloth. He picked up the strange object and ran out of the library.

Behind him the decomposing sentences began to tear open the other spellbooks. Soon they would spill their contents into the growing textual storm. Shannon pulled the subtextualized door shut.

The hallway went black. Shannon could hear the deconstructing literature crackle and hiss behind the subtext.

But he was safe now. The chaotic language, left in the private library, would deconstruct into nothing.

Something wet and hot was running down his face. Blood.

He was still holding the mysterious cloth- covered object. Perhaps Azure could look at it for him.

Azure!

Fear tore into his gut. What had the murderer done to his familiar?

“Azure!” he called hoarsely. “Azure!” He had turned and was running blindly, arm stretched out. His hand struck a wall and he nearly fell. There came a faint whistle from behind.

He spun around and saw with intense relief a coil of Numinous censoring texts lying on what he assumed to be the windowsill. The murderer had bound the bird magically but had not killed her. The villain must have known hurting Azure would have made recruiting him impossible.

Shannon hurried to pick up the censored bird.

In her fear, Azure bit his pinky hard enough to draw blood. But Shannon wouldn’t have cared if she had snapped his finger in two. Cooing softly, he unwound the censoring texts from the bird’s head.

Once her mind was free, Azure cast to him a deluge of terrified text: a white- cloaked figure appearing in the hallway and a blazing Numinous spell that came from outside the tower to envelop her mind.

It seemed odd that the murderer had written the censoring text to strike from outside the tower; then Shannon remembered the thing’s claim that it could not spellwrite within Starhaven’s walls.

“Los damn it, but what could the creature be?” he hissed while scooping Azure up as if she were a loaf of bread.

In his left hand, he still gripped the strange cloth- covered object he had picked up in the private library.

On trembling legs and looking through Azure’s eyes, he hurried down the Gimhurst Tower. His breath became ragged as he ran into Starhaven’s inhabited quarter.

Twice, mangy cats scattered before him. He did not slow until flickering torches appeared along the walkways. Only then did he take the time to look at himself through Azure’s eyes.

The deconstructing sentence fragments had torn holes in his robes and cut small bloody lines into his hands and face. More shocking was the gash that slanted down his left brow. Two of his silvery dreadlocks had been cut by whatever blade had made that wound.

After hurrying through several buildings and across the Grand Courtyard, Shannon reached the Erasmine Spire. Thankfully there were no other wizards about to see him trot up the stairs and into his study.

Still panting, he set Azure on the back of his chair and the strange cloth- covered object on his writing desk. Though she still sent him frightened memories of the attack, Azure was beginning to calm down.

Shannon cast a few flamefly paragraphs above his desk. Once there was enough light, he coaxed Azure into standing on his shoulder. After saying a brief prayer to the Creator, he turned Azure’s eyes to the strange object he had taken from Nora’s library.

At first he could not understand what he was seeing.

It lay on his desk, wrapped in what was left of a white sleeve. He must have cut it off with the Magnus spell.

Slowly, tentatively, he turned the thing over.

It had been detached just above the elbow joint. There was no blood. Its curled fingers were perfect, down to the hairs growing on the back of the thumb.

“Heaven defend us,” Shannon whispered in shock. “The days of prophecy are upon us!”

Patches of the object seemed to be made of pale skin. But even as he watched, these slowly darkened into clay.

Save for this strange fact, the thing was an exact replica of a man’s severed forearm.

3 commentaires:

machinery said...

this book sounds good, but also like a gamble.
after the fiasco of the "necromancer chronicles" and certain other series, i'm very hesitant before approaching another.
is there anyone here who actualy read this and can recommend it ? and compare it to others ?

Felix said...

Feels like a classical tale (with some innovations and specialties). Stealthy nighttime action in vast and magical masonry between sorcerers and unknown evil, with prophecies and intrigues in the back, is quick to stir a fantasy reader's curiosity. The prose also speaks for smartly calculated entertainment.
It can probably be counted among those "telling that perfect fantasy tale" attempts that appear to be a minor trend. Looking forward to how this will do.

Dliwir said...

I liked both, the excerpt you posted here as well as the first couple of chapters you linked to. Preodered Spellwright and really looking forward to it :)