Green Review: Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Voyager)

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
Out Now in hardback and it’s free atm on iBooks/Kindle

It’s always hard to find a good hook in traditional fantasy. There are limited tools in the toolbox as it were. You have good guys, bad guys, ancient cities, prophecies, wizards, elves. You get the idea. Basically, anything that Tolkien uses turns up at some point. This isn’t a bad thing. We tend to like reading about them and having them turn up. So they are are part of what’s expected.

In terms of furniture you’re not going to find anything too outlandish in Spellwright, which isn’t a criticism. It just means that Charlton has to do something with it to make it interesting. What’s his hook? Language. Magical language.

There is something different about Nicodemus Weal, he can’t spell, which isn’t a problem as people can figure out what we mean most of the time. Though when you are a wizard who uses magical language that you subconsciously corrupt then you become a bit of a danger to yourself and those around you.

But as with any disability there are ways of adapting and his mentor Magister Shannon is teaching and helping him so he can graduate at best, and, at worst, he’ll get all his magical abilities burnt out of him.

And as a fish this hook worked for me. Charlton has made his bonds between magic and language a part of everything, from society, to religion, it’s connected. I’ve read some complaints that it doesn’t work. That the reader couldn’t suspend their disbelief. I guess if you’ve never had a problem with language you wouldn’t have an immediate sympathy for Nicodemus.

If you’ve ever had a tweet or an email from me or from reading this blog for a while you might have noticed that I have my own problems with the mechanics of language. I’d love to be able to ‘fix’ them. They are wired in. It’s an odd blind-spot. So I can empathise with a character whose prophecy is that he’ll overcome his disability potentially to hold great power to create or destroy.

What really worked well was the setting up of certain moments where Charlton lead you down one path and then changed the dynamics. Everyone has an agenda. Even if you don’t know it at first.

When I said there are limited tools in the toolbox there is a point where I though ‘oh is it just that.’ It seemed so mundane and traditional after all the potential and playing that’s been going on with things like bookworms. But even that mundane element gets a twist at the end.

And there was another that tainted my sympathy for Nicodemus but I’m putting that down to a lack of finesse in characterisation, which only comes with practice.

Charlton has created a solid debut and a good foundation for the rest of the trilogy. He’s presenting a good dynamic between the cast that keeps the reader on their toes. He has a good main character and supporting cast and his magical system is one of the best I’ve seen for a while.

I hope that now he’s published he’ll be able to throw out some of the old fantasy tools and add some more of his own because he’s used some already and he’s more than capable of adding something different to the standard fantasy playbook.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve come away eager to read the next one. He’s set it up nicely but I’d have liked a few more risks.

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