Blake Charlton‘s Spellwright is a fantastic, entertaining entry into the genre that has been fairly well received throughout the lit world, and for good reason. Charlton has put together a wholly original fantasy novel, changing up a couple of familiar elements, then replacing them in a familiar environment and letting the story go from there.
The story’s plot is probably the weak point in the entire package, but to be very honest, that’s something that I’m more than fine with – the fantasy story of a learner in school, guided by a mentor is something that’s a pretty resilient story, and its something that works well between different books and authors. Spellwright is no copy of Harry Potter, but the similarities in setting would most likely appeal to a lot of people out there. With the opening of the book, a wizard is murdered during a Convocation in Starhaven, a wizard stronghold, setting Nicodemus Weal and his master, Magister Shannon, into a story that has been orchestrated by ancient forces, bent on returning to power. Nicodemus had been thought to be a sort of savior magician, for is abilities as a spell caster. The only issue was that he was afflicted by an inability to spell – Cacography, which makes him dangerous. As Nicodemus’s friends are targeted by the killer, he has to uncover the motives behind the murderer, and the prophecy behind him.
There are a couple of elements that really impressed me with this read, primarily the world-building, and Charlton’s use of his own personal experiences as subject matter for this book. In this world, Cacography is akin to dyslexia, which Charlton himself is afflicted with, and in a couple of recent interviews, he’s talked about how that affected him, and how fantasy literature gave him a sort of path and direction to take. There’s a real amount of attention paid here to words, and the magical system that has been invented here is really fantastic, almost like a sort of programming language for magicians. Here, words have power, but like any set of directions, the spells and abilities of magicians depend upon the correct components in order to get the right effect. It makes quite a bit of sense, and it gives Spellwright a very different feel throughout, which sets it apart from similar books.
In particular, Nicodemus as the central character, proves to be an interesting protagonist, as someone who’s suffering from a disability, especially when considering how Charlton’s magical system has been set up: words, sentences, paragraphs and prose make up the magical effects, and it’s quite something to imagine being attacked by words themselves, or imagining the core of existence essentially complicated magic composed of words. The end result, especially for someone who loves books, is thrilling to read about.
The book isn’t perfect – there’s a little too much repetition, and the last couple of chapters seem like they’ve been dropped in, with too much showing over telling, but that doesn’t really detract from the rest of the book. By the end, it seemed as if I had read through a six hundred word book, rather than a three hundred page book, and at the end, I felt that I wanted quite a lot more out of this world. Spellwright, in a way, is a bit of a tease, considering the world and history that has been set up for it.
This is the other major aspect in which Spellwight shines brightly: the world has been pretty well conceived, with a background history, traditions, societies and magical environment. But, while these sorts of things are good, what’s better is that this background information is directly used and impacts the story as a whole, turning it from pretty scenery into a plot point, which is very good for a novel like this, and it more than makes up for the issues that I do have with the book.
I’m very eagerly awaiting for the next installment in the larger story – Charlton’s hard at work on book number 2, and that will certainly be something to look out for.