Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Blake Charlton


If you like your fantasy full of metaphors Spellwright has some plump, juicy ones in this world where words hold power and spelling can be a matter of life and death. Nicodemus Weal is a cacographer, which means he's capable of using magic but unable to spell. Whilst other spellwrights his age have long since gained their wizard hoods he remains an apprentice. Even his touch can create a dangerous misspell.

However Nicodemus holds out the hope that he is the Halcyon, the prophesied hero who will stand against the demons in a battle known as the Disjunction. His mentor, the Grand Wizard Shannon, isn't so keen to raise the young man's hopes. Especially when Shannon knows there are factions who would kill anyone they believed fit the bill, for fear of a counter-prophecy.

Things kick off when a grammarian is murdered in the literary academy of Starhaven. The killer is unknown, but those investigating the death make it hard for anyone under suspicion to protect themselves. Druids and other magic users have gathered there for a convocation, and as the threats intensify Nicodemus doesn't know who he can trust.

Blake Charlton has created an intriguing magic system. Spellwrights write magical texts onto their skin and then use them to affect the world around them. They can create constructs to guard them or do chores, they can turn their words into weapons, or they can use magic to heal. There are various magical languages which are visible to those spellwrights who are fluent in them. Text is everywhere, and its possibilities are endless. So although this story is set in a pre-industrial type of world, problems with reading are as profound a difficulty for Nicodemus as they would be in the modern world.

As well as giving us a different type of magic, Blake Charlton has also broken away from the usual bland medieval castles of epic fantasy. True enough, Starhaven is a place of stone towers and hooded wizards doing obscure things with runes. But it's old and creepy like a tomb. Its walls have seen a long and bloody history and the Chthonic people who built it have disappeared, leaving their ghostly imprint on the place. After a great diaspora the peoples of this world fled another continent, leaving demons stranded across the sea. But the fear of demons pervades their culture. There are creatures such as ghosts, kobolds and minor gods lurking subtly in the background, strange enough to be fascinating without threatening to turn the novel into a high fantasy zoo.

Nicodemus is an easy character to sympathise with as he tackles the frustrations of dyslexia and the challenges life throws at him. However he sometimes seems to be more obsessed with finding a cure and completing himself than with anything else that's going on around him.

Spellwright isn't the kind of fantasy that's overly concerned with affairs of the heart, but mystery and adventure abound. It's an atmospheric story written with the skill of a tattoo artist, with ideas that get under your skin and leave their indelible mark.

19th July 2010

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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