Spellwright


Blake Charlton's fantasy debut came highly recommended, and I was looking forward to see what the buzz was all about. Spellwright is definitely a throwback book, reminiscent of epic fantasy and sword & sorcery novels from the 80s and the early 90s. Indeed, this is the sort of story that brings us back to a time when authors such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman dominated the bestseller lists. And given Brooks and Feist's popularity, it appears that there is a huge market for books like Spellwright. Though they differ in style and tone, Charlton's fantasy debut reminded me of Feist's Magician: Apprentice.

Here's the blurb:

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text . . . but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus... and the world.

As a throwback book, Spellwright embraces a lot of the traditional tropes of the fantasy genre. Which, in the end, will either please or put off readers. Fans of the "New Grit" movement and the school of hard knocks established by George R. R. Martin, and which includes writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Brian Ruckley, and Richard Morgan might have a hard time getting into this one. In Spellwright, the heroes are good, the villains are evil. The forces of good always beat the odds and manage to come out on top, with secret knowledge or power falling into their lap in the nick of time. The good guys are all handsome and beautiful, while the bad guys aren't. The whole good vs evil shebang. Which is not inherently a bad thing, mind you, provided that you are prepared to read such a work. On the other hand, readers who prefer subversion of these same tropes and clichés and love authors known to do that like Steven Erikson might not like Spellwright. Personally, although I much prefer grittier SFF books and series, as a child of the 80s I mostly enjoyed this homage to the works which made me fall in love with the genre.

The worldbuilding is classical and we only get a few glimpses at Charlton's universe. It will be interesting to see more of the world as the story progresses in the upcoming sequels. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Solar Empire, Language Prime, the Chthonic race, and a number of other concepts, as well as the ancient history of Charlton's world.

What truly makes Spellwright stand out is the imaginative magic system Blake Charlton created. Just when you think you've seen it all, like Brandon Sanderson in the Mistborn trilogy, the author came up with something fascinating and unique. Spellwriting allows magic-users to write spells using magical languages. It takes a while to fully understand how it's done, but once you do it allows Charlton to be quite creative and make Spellwright something special.

The characterization is a bit uneven and there are various bumps along the way. Nicodemus Weal, a dyslexic spellwright suffering from cacography, is the principal protagonist. Believed to be either the prophesied savior or destroyer, he is a likeable main character. The problem is that he is at times extremely naive and not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed, while sometimes he appears to puzzle out key pieces of the mystery in a way that feels contrived. The same can be said of the cast of secondary characters, though Deidre and Shannon have a few surprises up their sleeves. Another detail which did not always work out well was when random conversations were used to cover info dumps.

The pace is good, and the short chapters keep the rhythm moving steadily forward. Despite the tropes, Blake Charlton wrote an engaging -- if not the most original -- story. Spellwright makes for a good reading experience that does bring back memories.

It's too early to say whether or not Spellwright will be the fantasy debut of the year. And yet, I would hazard a guess that Charlton's debut probably sits in the pole position at the moment. It will be interesting to see if Tor Books will attempt to market this one to the Terry Brooks and Raymond E. Feist crowd. Their fans are legions, and most of them would likely enjoy Spellwright quite a bit.

There is no doubt that Spellwright has a lot of potential, which bodes well for the rest of the rest of the series to come. I'll be curious to read the sequel, Spellbound.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

10 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit surprised by the generally positive nature of your assessment. I found this title to be rather soulless, lacking in both storyline and writing quality. The entire book felt rather juvenile and disconnected; a million pieces of random fantasy shaken up and stuffed together at random. As far as the magic system goes, while the idea at least has potential, it was very poorly realized in Spellwright. The distinct impression I got from this debut is that the author simply does not have the technical skills and writing prowess to make this novel or series work. I think I understand and in most ways agree with your implication that Fiest etc. crowds might be the ones to enjoy this book, if in fact anyone does, but even authors in that vein do not throw around nonsense solutions and pretty yet contradictory elements with the speed and consistency of Charlton. A huge part of my distaste is undoubtedly a result of the fact that I too was taken in by the buzz this novel created, a buzz which after reading the book I truly do not understand. Ultimately, at 7.5, I think you were *extremely* generous.

Seven Point Five said...

7.5

maine character said...

Having expectations of a book being the best for the year is always a killer. It got me curious enough to look up the author's website when you first mentioned this book last year, but when I printed up the first chapter, expecting greatness, I found just what you said.

Still, there was something about it that made me go back for the second chapter, and then again for the third and fourth. Based on those sample chapters, I'd say it's not the deepest journey, but interesting enough to keep me reading, and younger readers especially will most likely take to it.

Mat said...

I quite enjoyed the book to be honest. Sure, it's not Martin, Erikson or Abercrombie, but it is entertaining and fun to read.
At least the first half of it, after that too many things just fell into place and other things took of too quickly for my liking. So yes, I see where your criticism is coming from. However, I think there is room for an easy to read fun book next to writers like Erikson.

7.5 seems fair enough to me. I had fun reading it and the magic system has quite some potential... for now.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but think of the cartoon "Word World" while reading this book. "We can build a word! Let's build it, let's build it now!"

It was a fun read, my biggest complaint was the info dumps. How cliche is it to have the villain tell you his whole plan right before he is going to kill.

Doug said...

Really glad to hear throwbacks are popular.

I'm shooting for a little father back though, like the 60's and 70's. More in the Zelazny,Moorecock,Leiber style of epic. That overlayed with the world building of C.J. Cherryh and the character depth of Martin. I'm not really a good enough writer to pull it off yet, but I'm do'in my damnedest to try.

Anonymous said...

7.5

Anonymous said...

Info-dump, backstory, info-dump, info-dump, backstory, story. I quitwith 80 pages left. I asked mtself two questions " do I care what happens?" and "would I ever read the next in the series?" the answer to both questions: NO.

Anonymous said...

Ouch!

Kirshy said...

Fantasy debut of the year? I think not.

I'm reading the book now and have to agree with the general consensus. The info dumps, dialogue, and his 'made up' words and names are awful. I'm surprised he was even able to get a book like this published. The fact that he actually has a scene where the main 'fiend' (who uses the word fiend anymore?), describes how and why he's been chasing and killing people in the book, is so cliche I almost stopped reading the book then and there.

"You have two choices Nicodemus, join me or die, muh hahahah!"...So dumb!

The only reason I haven't returned the book to the library already is that I hate leaving a book unfinished especially when I'm only about 100 pages from the end. I have no plans on reading a sequel unless I hear that his writing improves.

If you're thinking of picking up this book. Don't waste your time, you'll only regret it later.

5/10.