Francesca De Vega is a successful healer in the city of Avel, wielding magical text to mend wounds and disspell curses, but her life is thrown into chaos when a dead patient sits up and tells her to run. Now Francesca is in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand, one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal, and brings her face to face with demons, demigods, and a man she thought she’d never see again.
It has been ten years since Nicodemus escaped from Starhaven Academy, where he was considered disabled and useless, and where he battled the demon Typhon who stole his birthright and killed his friends. Having mastered the dark language of the kobolds, Nico now feels ready to take his revenge against Typhon. But complications arise: his mentor suffers from an incurable curse, his half-sister’s agents are hunting him, and he’s still not sure he can trust the mysterious healer Francesca De Vega.
And in a world where a misused pronoun can spell death, Nicodemus knows he can’t afford to make a single mistake.
Blake Charlton’s debut novel Spellwright (review) made my top five books read in 2010 list last year, so me buying Spellbound was a given. Unfortunately I had to wait until I got to go Sinterklaas shopping to get it, so I didn’t get to read it immediately on publication, to my great chagrin. But, I made up for that by reading it in two sittings and wow, was it great to return to the world Charlton has created! Spellbound is set ten years after the events of Spellwright and as such, life in the Six Human Kingdoms has moved on. Adherents of the Prophecy and the Counter-Prophecy are moving in opposition of each other and the demon Typhon is taking a more active role in the events of the world.
The most obvious difference from Spellwright is Spellbound‘s protagonist. Charlton chooses to go with a whole new perspective in this book, that of physician Francesca De Vega. Nicodemus is by no means absent from this novel, he just isn’t the main focus of it, as he was in Charlton’s debut. Francesca is a charming protagonist, even if she is stubborn, fierce and, at times, quite grumpy. I really adored her fierceness and her independent nature. She also shows some amazing character development, from going from a very competent healer to something all together different, dealing with some very difficult experiences along the way. It hard to explain this further without moving into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say I really loved how Charlton handled Fran’s story and where she ends up.
Francesca is surrounded by a cast of great characters. There are those we’ve met before, such as Nicodemus, Deirdre and Master Shannon and new faces, such as Cyrus, Francesca’s hierophant ex-lover and Nicodemus’ crew of kobold boys. Deirdre’s story is heartbreaking, she’s such a noble soul and the way her story ends, had me choked for up a bit. None of the familiar characters from Spellwright have come out of that book unharmed or unchanged, and it’s these changes that make them so compelling. While Nico still wants to save the world from the Disjunction, his most obsessive goal is curing his Master Shannon, sometimes taking extraordinary risks and even going against Shannon’s own wishes. Shannon plays an important and poignant part in Spellbound and for me he stole almost every scene he was in. What I really liked about Fran’s interactions with Cyrus, is that there is still true affection there, but we soon see why they split up in the first place. Their bickering and constant needling of each other is funny and painful to watch at the same time. I think it’s a very realistic portrayal of a relationship that’s ended not because one party betrayed the other, but has just bled to death and grown apart and Charlton paints it with a deft hand.
He shows the same deft hand in his portrayal of the villains of the book, especially Typhon and the Savanna Walker. But are ruthlessly evil and out for their own gain, but both are also understandable in their motivations. Yes, Typhon’s Disjunction will destroy the world as Nico and Fran know it, but for him it’s what will save his people—and yes, give him world domination. Leaving aside the added bonus of world domination, Typhon genuinely seems to want to rescue his people. The Savanna Walker is an even more tragic case. Again, going into details would be giving spoilers, but Charlton succeeds in even giving this horrific monster a sympathetic side. And despite there being sympathetic elements to these villains, they remain the villains and it’s impossible not to root for our heroes.
One of the elements that made me fall in love with Spellwright is Charlton’s magic system. This prose-based system is something unique to his world and I utterly fell for it. In Spellbound we encounter and discover other aspects of this magic system. Francesca practices a different kind of magic from Shannon and Cyrus’ Hierophantic magic is another beast entirely, its runes only produced by the heart muscle, being stored in cloth instead of his body or paper and is connected to air. We also meet a hydromancer, whose prose is stored in water. And of course we see the magical language Nicodemus has learned from the kobolds, which is bound to darkness. I loved all these variations and I can’t wait to see what else Charlton can dream up.
Spellbound shows Charlton’s growth as a writer. It’s a tight story, with great characterisation and the ending felt less rushed than Spellwright‘s. It was an absolutely delightful read and I was sad to close the pages on the Six Human Kingdoms once more. In Spellwright Charlton explored dyslexia, where Spellbound is infused with his experiences as a medical student and the dilemmas doctors face in their daily work. It makes me wonder what he’ll explore in the last book of the trilogy, Spellbreaker, whether it is again something connected to his real-life experiences or whether it’ll move away from those. Clearly, I loved this book and if you haven’t given this series a try yet or haven’t yet picked up the second book, I highly recommend you do so, as it’s not a series to be missed.