I have finally had a chance to read the sequel to Spellwright by Blake Charlton entitled Spellbound. The plot takes place ten years after the events in the first volume, and Nicodemus Weal is on the run. The book introduces a new character, however, and she makes her appearance right from the beginning. The first line of the book, I’ll admit, had me hooked:
Francesca did not realize she had used an indefinite pronoun until it began to kill her patient.
That imaginative wordplay and ingenious (yes, I’ll say it… ingenious) magic system of Charlton’s is back and better than ever:
Francesca used [the runes] in her left forearm to write a few silvery sentences that glowed on her skin. With her right hand, she pulled the spell free. It folded into a short, precise blade.
Spellbound also introduces a new order of magic-users: the hierophants or “wind mages” which use wind and cloth to wield their power. They cast spells slowly (beat by beat of their heart), and Charlton gives an intriguing description of the inner workings of one of their windcatchers:
Inside the windcatcher, hundreds of radial sails were arranged like windmill blades and rotated around a central point. Somehow a hierophant was suspended within the windcatcher. The many sails focused the energy of their rotation into the hierophant’s heart and accelerated its spellwriting. Each augmented heartbeat produced a hundred thousand times more runes that it otherwise would./ This was the hierophantic key to power. Their language was produced only in the heart muscle, was limited to cloth, and melted into a wind when cast. However, they had harnessed nature’s power, transformed the wind into words. From a school of kite-flying hermits on the slopes of Mount Spires, they had grown into the linguistic backbone of a powerful kingdom.
We also get to see much more of kobold culture. The kobolds, with “their midnight skin and blond hair”, can only cast spells in the darkness.
The lycanthropes are a new race of beings, and they prowl the savannah. There is an interesting twist to their role in the story, as well as an unexpected turn of events having to do with the Savannah Walker as well as a ghost that makes a debut.
Although the plot can get overly complicated sometimes, Charlton does a good job of pulling the reader along. His magic system, though, is what I most enjoyed from these two books (and expect from the promised third volume, Spellbreaker). With sentences like “An unseen wartext blasted the ghost’s right arm into a cloud of golden text”, how can anyone who loves language and how it works not be intrigued with making invisible words tangible and full of power.
In closing, I had the great good fortune to see Blake Charlton give a talk at the American Library Association Annual Conference last summer in Anaheim, CA. He was extremely entertaining but also poignant at times talking about growing up with dyslexia and “riding the short bus.” He would go on to medical school and prove everyone wrong that thought he wouldn’t amount to much. I also had the chance later that same day to talk briefly to him at his book signing, tell him I was shocked when he replied to a tweet, and he mentioned that he most enjoyed writing Francesca’s character in the Spellbound novel. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why and his enjoyment shines through the prose.
Looking forward to reading Spellbreaker!
I just finished Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Tor, 2010) . 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.