Science fiction and fantasy
by Blake Charlton
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
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