A disclaimer: a copy of this book was provided by Blake, who had consulted me at one point about the military elements of the story.
Blake Charlton’s second novel has remained one of my more anticipated books of the year, ever since I set aside his first, Spellwright. Set ten years after the events of his first novel, Spellbound picks up the action and world nicely, proving to be an entertaining and enthralling read, while avoiding the pitfalls of the dreaded sophomore slump.
When we last left Nicodemus Weal, he’d been through hell, discovering some of the reasons behind his disability and coming up with some stunning revelations about the world around him. Ten years on, we’re introduced to Francesca DeVega, a healer who stumbles into the middle of a grand conspiracy when a patient that she accidentally kills awakens, sending her into a world of trouble, colliding with Nicodemus as he prepares to meet agents of a larger agenda, working to change the world for the worse, bringing about the Disjunction, where the world’s language prime is re-written, eliminating life as they all know it.
Spellbound was a fun read: Charlton brings out a great tale, one that moves swiftly from point to point without letting up on the urgency. Like Spellwright, Spellbound is a great story within a story: like some of the great fantasy worlds, the focus is on the characters, operating within a much larger story. While there are points where I would have liked to have strayed and explored the story’s rich world a bit more, Charlton clamps down a bit and keeps the story moving forward. The result is a fairly focused narrative, with points that I had wished been fleshed out or explained a little more. Spellbound is going to be a bit of a harder book for an introductory reader (Spellwright should certainly be read first), but for readers aching for more after Spellwright, it’s a welcomed addition to the world. It fits perfectly, taking much of the same tone and pace, and it’s as if one never left.
Where Spellwright focused extensively on the disabilities and triumph on the part of Nicodemus, Spellbound takes a bit of a different turn by focusing almost extensively on Francesca, a healer. Charlton has drawn from his own life experiences when it comes to his dyslexia, and while that’s certainly an element of the story here, he’s moved past the problems and focused on things: medicine. One of the sheer joys of reading a new novel is seeing what the author does to a genre differently, and here, we see a neat blend of magic and medical science. Fantastic literature tends to gloss over some of the details of how the systems actually work: Charlton has taken a much different approach with his own magical system, and where it was a delight in Spellwright, it’s an absolute joy to see it fleshed out here. The world building is once again top notch, and where the first book had a bit of a narrow view of the world, the second rips it open, and we see quite a bit more: the politics, environment, lives of the people, and so forth, all in far more detail.
The medical element adds a nice touch too: presumably, people in any fantastic world have issues with their health, and rather than a bunch of vague understandings, we’re presented with a deep understanding of the human body, and how not only magic would affect someone, but how a person wielding magic would be able to treat and address wounds and illnesses. This element alone gives the book a good edge over other, similar reads out there, and it’s certainly one of my favorites for the year so far.
Spellbound isn’t a perfect read, however. Like the first book, there’s some pacing issues: where book one was strongest to begin with, this one feels like it’s spinning its wheels a bit in the beginning, explaining, connecting and setting the stage before carrying everything over into the conclusion. Coupled with an overly rich world, I kept feeling as if I’d missed something, going back a couple of pages to catch up. Given that it’s also been about a year since I picked up Spellwright, I’m looking forward to the day when I can pick up all three books and read them consecutively: I suspect that a lot of things will fall into place when that happens. There’s points where the dialogue, while pithy and appropriate at points, feels forced and out of place.
Spellbound is a fun, exciting read, one that deserves the attention and more of its predecessor. Rather than retread over old ground, Charlton has paved his way forward based on the lessons learned (presumably from his own experiences) in the prior book, building and expanding them aggressively in the second. The story is loaded with interesting characters, a story that works well and that comes unexpectedly at points, and a world that is worth returning to often. The result is a rich, textured read, one that shows what fantasy should be when it encounters a creative and curious mind, a second novel that doesn’t disappoint. I’m already waiting for Disjunction, the final book in the trilogy.