When I first started following the book blogosphere seriously, back in late January of this year, one book that was receiving a lot of buzz was Spellwright. Once the book was released in the US in March and reviews started coming out, it soon came apparent that it would constitute a major #bookfail not to read this book. So when I spent some of my birthday money at The Book Depository last month, this book had to be part of my birthday loot.
I’m a librarian, so a magic system based on text is certain to have me excited! Imagine my surprise when I had a really hard time getting into said magic system. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I kept getting jarred from the story to examine the cleverness of the use of (for me) everyday words for something as extraordinary as magic; Nicodemus edits spells, is afraid to be censored and forges spells from his muscles in different magical languages. The magic system in Spellwright is original and fresh and one of the most imaginative systems I’ve come across in a long time. By page thirty though, I’d gotten used to the terminology and the story sucked me in.
The story is wonderful. While seemingly another prophecy-driven quest tale where our hero needs to save the world, it’s not. Because Nicodemus is a cacographer and misspells anything but the most basic spells, so how can he be the prophesied hero who saves the world? To me the core of the story is Nico’s struggle with his cacography and trying to come to terms with the fact that there is no magical cure (literally in this case!) and that he is not the promised Halcyon. His desperate hope that he might yet find a way to heal his cacography provides the drive for many of Nico’s choices in the story.
I like that the protagonist is older and acts that way too. He doesn’t get distracted by the usual adolescent fumbling; he’s been there, done that and moved on. He also feels responsible for the cacographic acolytes placed under his supervision in the Drum Tower. One of my favourite chapters has to be the one in which Nicodemus teaches an introductory composition class full of thirteen year-olds. It’s filled with humorous exchanges between Nico and the students, but it’s also full of wisdom. In the conversation between Nico and Derrick, one of the students, Charlton not only manages to show us how having a learning disability affects a person, but also has Nico realise that having a learning disability is not what defines him:
“The truth is that you are neither broken nor gifted; you are only what you make yourself into. In that regard, you and I are no different than any other student.”
To be honest, that was the moment Charlton had me. That scene shone and stayed with me for a long while.
Spellwright made me realise, once more, that any kind of language, be it spoken, written, mathematical, sign or magic, any language that enables two people to communicate is magical. And it is a magic everyone possesses, in one form or another.
All in all, Spellwright is an awesome book, which reminded me why I love fantasy so much. It swept me away while I was reading into a different world, but it also made me think about life and language and I dare say I learned from it. The second novel of the series Spellbound is reportedly scheduled for July next year (I know what I want for my birthday next year!) and Blake tweeted that he’s started work on Disjunction, the last book of the series recently, so there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Meanwhile, let’s hope Voyager, his UK publisher, brings him to Europe for a book tour once Spellbound hits the shelves next year!!