Spellwright: Remarkable debut

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Blake Charlton SpellwrightSpellwright by Blake Charlton

FORMAT/INFO: Spellwright is 352 pages long divided over 46 numbered chapters, a Prolog, an Epilog, and a World Map. Narration is in the third-person, mainly via the protagonist Nicodemus Weal, but also includes narratives by Grand Wizard Agwu Shannon, the druid Dierdre, sentinel Amadi Okeke, and the villainous “creature.” Spellwright is the first volume in a trilogy, but many of the book’s major plotlines are satisfactorily concluded, while the closing chapters set up events for the upcoming sequels. The second book in the trilogy is currently titled Spellbound.

February 16, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Spellwright via Tor. Cover art provided by Todd Lockwood.

ANALYSIS: In Blake Charlton’s debut novel, Spellwright, readers will find everything from wizards, druids, apprentices, prophecies, chosen ones and magical institutions to dragons, demons, kobolds, gargoyles, deities, and more. Sounds like another run-of-the-mill fantasy novel, right? In some aspects this is true as Spellwright is heavily influenced by classic fantasy tropes, but there’s more to the book than meets the eye…

For starters, the magic system in Spellwright is simply brilliant. On the surface, magical languages and runes is nothing new, but Blake Charlton takes the concept to a whole new level, one revolving around the system of writing, which is then governed by its own elaborate set of rules and theories and where familiar words like prose, literacy, edit, erase, censor, compound appositives, deconstruct, subtext, syntax, central passages/arguments, paragraphs, conformation, etc., take on new meaning. For instance, to perform magic in Spellwright, one must first learn the alphabet of a magical language such as Jejunus, Magnus or Numinous, which are depicted as runes. In turn, these runes must be forged within the muscles of a person’s body:

As with any language, you will need to build a vocabulary and understand the grammar governing that vocabulary. After that, you will learn how to move the runes through your bodies, how to string them together into sentences, and finally how to cast them out into the world.” —Nicodemus Weal on Introductory Spellwriting

Believe it or not, this is only a small example of what Spellwright’s magic system has to offer. In fact, there’s so much other stuff to process like cacographers, quatenary cognition, Language Prime, constructs, avatars, metaspells, ghostwriting, godspells, wartexts, impressed spells, synaesthesia, tomes like the Index (think of it as the magical version of a library’s search engine), etc.; not to mention how nearly everything in the book is tied in some way to magical languages, runes or spellwriting including the world’s history, religions, and different races as well as the novel’s characters and plot; that it can be a little overwhelming, which is really the only negative thing I have to say about the magic system. In short, I couldn’t get enough of the magic found in Spellwright, and feel it’s one of the most innovative and fascinating magic systems that I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel, ranking right up there with Brandon Sanderson’s Allomancer concept.

Secondly, Spellwright is incredibly charming. So charming in fact, that it sometimes felt like I was reading a Harry Potter novel, although comparisons can also be drawn to Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, and Raymond E. Feist. Most of the book’s charm can be attributed to the author’s accessible writing, the likeable characters — particularly Nicodemus and Agwu Shannon who possess similarities to Harry Potter and Dumbledore — or the novel’s PG-13 tone.

Thirdly, Spellwright is a labor of love. In addition to spending several years writing and developing his first novel, Blake Charlton also incorporates many important moments from his personal life in the book like the protagonist suffering from a similar disability, Nicodemus’ love for knightly romances, and the method Nicodemus’ mother uses to teach her son how to read. On top of that, it’s obvious how much the author loves fantasy and how much fun he had writing the book. As a result, Spellwright is infused with Blake’s passion for the novel and his enthusiasm for the genre … a passion and enthusiasm that will rub off on the reader…

Despite the book’s undeniable charm and passion, and the inventive magic system, Spellwright is not without its flaws. Characters for one, lack depth. Specifically, the characters suffer from shallow backstories and unconvincing motives. So even though Nicodemus, Shannon, and company are easy to like, it’s a superficial charm, and I was never able to connect with any of the characters on a deeply emotional level. Then there’s the world-building which, compared to the magic system, was insufficient and unoriginal — the story of the ancient continent, the Maelstrom and the Exodus reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Haydon’s THE SYMPHONY OF AGES for instance. Another example is the book’s religion which is basically depicted as different races giving thanks to different gods: Creator, Celeste, or Hakeem for the wizards; Boann for the druids; Los for the demons, etc.

Blake’s writing meanwhile, had mixed results. Prose, for instance, though accessible, was at times plain, while the fast pacing was occasionally too rapid, skimming over events that could have used further explanation. Finally, the plot deals with a lot of overly familiar ideas such as prophecies, chosen ones (the Halycon), wizard apprentices, magical schools, opposing factions of good and evil, and so on. Fortunately, because the author incorporates so many recognizable tropes in the story, he was able to take the book in several unexpected directions, which included some nice surprises and at least one shocking turn of events. After the novel’s climactic scene however, Spellwright languishes for twenty pages too long with events that could have been developed much further, and which I felt would have worked better at the beginning of the next book in the trilogy.

CONCLUSION: Even though Blake Charlton’s Spellwright suffers from problems with world-building, characterization, prose, pacing, and uneven storytelling, the book is still one of the most entertaining and satisfying fantasy debuts I have ever read, mainly because of its charming appeal, highly imaginative magic system, and the author’s obvious love for the genre. In fact, I enjoyed reading Spellwright so much, I worry about the sequel living up to the high standards set by Blake Charlton’s remarkable debut…

Spellwright — (2010-2016) Publisher: Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat. Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell. Runes must be placed in the correct order tocreate a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell” — a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them. Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics tocare for Starhaven’s disabled students. But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one… and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by bothinvestigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.

fantasy book reviews Blake Charlton Spellwright 2. Spellboundfantasy book reviews Blake Charlton Spellwright 2. Spellbound


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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