Cover Illustration: Keevil Design
Cover Design: HarperCollinsPublishers
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publishing Date: 27 May 2010
On the cover:
Nicodemus Weal has trained at the stronghold of Starhaven since he was a boy. His mentor, the famous wizard Magister Shannon, taught him how to cast spells made from luminescent magical runes, how to peel written words off a page and make them physically real. Initially, Nicodemus showed great promise. Able to forge runes with great speed, he was once thought to be the Halcyon - a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent the apocalypse known as the disjunction.
There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn't spell. Every time he touched a magical text, he unintentionally corrupted it, creating a dangerous, potentially deadly misspell. Now aged twenty-five, while his peers advance as wizards, he is still an apprentice, dealing with the devastating knowledge that he has failed to live up to prophecy.
But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are factions who believe someone like Nicodemus could hold great power - power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will...
Charlton is quick to get the reader into the story. And he is also quick to introduce a central mystery that is
both interesting and intriguing. The mystery part of the story is presented to us in the first couple of chapters, and while this seems pretty ordinary at first the setting makes it something else entirely.
While the story at times can seem predictable, there are several layers of complexity added as it progresses, and it takes several turns that I didn't expect. It is not an especially long novel, for fantasy, but it contains a lot of action and suspense. One of Charlton's strengths is that he does not overwrite, but lets the story flow without unnecessarily slowing it down.
I love fantasy that has history, a world that has seemingly organically grown, and Charlton presents us with that. It is not done in info dumps, but is trickled out at natural points as the story progresses. By the end of the novel you'll have an idea of the world Nicodemus inhabits that makes it interesting to see what comes next.
Even in the somewhat constricted world of Starhaven we get glimpses into the politics and conflicts of the wider world. Something Charlton does very well. The rivalries between different groups is handled with skill, and adds a lot to the story.
What separates this most from other works of fantasy is the magic system. Charlton has created a language based magic system that at first seems pretty straight forward and simple, but as we learn more it comes apparent that it is very complex.
The magic is also in many ways integrated seamlessly into the story. And not used as a way of getting the characters out of impossible situations as we often see in fantasy. It is great to see magic in fantasy presented in a way that feels fresh and original.
In conclusion, I can say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable and suspense-filled debut from Charlton. It is not a book that is overly taxing to read, and it has a legacy rooted more in the traditional epic fantasy than the "gritty" or "new weird" that seem to be the vogue these days.
I'd recommend this to any fan of fantasy, but especially to those that enjoy a good and complex magic system.