RSS Feed

Spellwright: A Conlanger’s Review

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2012 in Books, Review

I just finished Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Tor, 2010) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you. The story follows the adventures of Nicodemus Weal, a “spellwright” who can’t spell. The most fascinating thing about the world that Blake Charlton has created is his novel system of magic where spells are formed within one’s body or peeled from the pages of a book. The master wizard, Agwu Shannon, is a great well-rounded character and could probably have sustained a book of his own. There are lots of other secondary characters and intriguing plots. But, since this is a conlanging blog, let’s see how Charlton handles language.

The first thing to know about language in the world of Nicodemus Weal is that language is Power…literally. The magical languages include Common, Numinous, Magnus, Wrixlan, Pithan, and the all-mighty Language Prime. One could think of these magical languages almost as computer code or prose. One who knows one of these languages can form the sentences, phrases, and paragraphs within their bodies and construct wonder-working spells. But be careful of misspellings! They can kill you. That is Nicodemus’ problem. He is a cacographer or one who is magically dyslexic, inadvertently misspelling even the simplest of spells.

To followup on the idea of writing instructions out of magical languages: In one section, a “bookworm” (a monstrous creature that eats magical texts or “malicious language that invades manuscripts. They eat all the prose and use it to make copies of themselves”) is caught and its text is parsed to figure out where it was supposed to return (i.e., it’s been programmed and its captors are going to re-program it). The book even describes “textual intelligence” as a required string of instructions: “if this happens, then do that; if that does not happen, then do this…”

The way Charlton described the magical languages is very evocative:

  • “A sudden, golden jet of Numinous prose exploded…
  • “…a bookshelf burst into a molten ball of silvery Magnus.”
  • and maybe the best: After a struggle, someone’s face is “crushed by blunt words”

And since these languages all have writing systems to go with them, this could be a hey-day for some inventive con-scripter!

Humans are the primary beings in this world, but there are a Chthonic non-human people who dwelt in the land prior to humans’ arrival. We get one word of their language: tulki = masculine form of “interpreter”.

Charlton also has some fun with the word ghostwriting which is the spell a spellwright can use to exist after death.

Finally, we get the name of a few spells: madide, latere, sceaduganga. The last one, as I read, triggered some sort of Old English ancestral memory or something. So, I set off to check my available online Old English dictionaries. Sure enough, sceadu-genga occurs in Line 703 of Beowulf: Cóm on wanre niht / scríðan sceadugenga “In the colourless night, came / slinking the shadow-wanderer. (Click here for a good online Beowulf in Old and Modern English). The spell does indeed allow one to walk in the shadows or, in other words, to become invisible.

So, Spellwright is worth the read. A fascinating magical system, playful use of language, and interesting characters. It does drag a bit in spots being a little overly-reliant on exposition, but the action and overall story make up for these shortcomings. In fact, I thought (after reading it) maybe we should refer to ourselves as langwrights instead of conlangers. Just an idea.

Be the first to comment.

Leave a Reply

*