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Spellwright
Blake Charlton
Tor, 352 pages

Spellwright
Blake Charlton
Blake Charlton has had short stories published in several fantasy anthologies. Spellwright is his first novel. A medical student at Stanford University, he lives near San Francisco, where he's working on a sequel.

Blake Charlton Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

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When he first started to learn magic, there were those who believed Nicodemus Weal was destined to become a wizard of prophecy, the Halcyon, who would turn back evil and save the world from the apocalyptic Disjunction.

Then his mentors realized he couldn't spell -- that's 'spell' in the magical sense. Writing his own spells -- for spells must be written before they can be read and released -- required intense concentration, even for the simplest magic. And any spell already written down could be turned to gibberish by Nicodemus' touch. Turns out Nicodemus wasn't the Halcyon, just another hopeless cacographer, doomed to a life as a janitor and teaching assistant, working the safest, most boring magic under the watchful eyes of the wizards at Starhaven.

At twenty-five, Nicodemus Weal is grateful to have a place to belong, and a mentor, Shannon, who treats him well. Things could be much worse. But that doesn't stop him from wishing things were different. He understands textural magic as much or better than most wizards his age; but he must accept the fact that he'll never be able to use it.

The trouble begins when a Starhaven mage is found murdered -- apparently by a mis-cast spell. Guess who the chief suspects are? Shannon is especially suspicious, for apparently he was deeply involved in the political intrigues back in his home territory. Nicodemus knows he had nothing to do with it, but can he trust Shannon? And what about the druid Deidre, recently come to Starhaven, who claims her goddess can heal Nicodemus and repair his spelling ability?

Events snowball. Nicodemus' nightmares become real, demons are murdering Starhaven cacographers, and Shannon is under arrest. Nicodemus knows it's his fault; he doesn't know how, exactly, but he's certain that if he doesn't do something, everything he knows here will be destroyed, himself along with it.

This debut fantasy proposes one of the most unique spell-systems in recent memory. Nicodemus' plight is compelling, as is the young wizard himself. Blake Charlton is working with some familiar tropes here -- the cursed mage, an ancient prophecy on the verge of coming to pass, and the blackest evil seeping into the real world to overturn everything. If there are any flaws here, they lie in the fact that spellwrighting and its history are the heart of the story, even more than the characters. This leads to many expository scenes where Nicodemus is explaining how magic works, or having something magical and/or historical explained to him, usually as much for the benefit of the reader as the character. On the other hand, you have to hand it to Charlton for objectifying magical puns about misspelling and purple prose.

Long ago, those who could spell, or read and write, were different, suspicious, possessing knowledge far beyond the normal world. Those who could read really did know magic. Keep that in mind as you read this intriguing new fantasy novel.

Copyright © 2010 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.


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