So this one is not quite a classic. I needed to take a break from the classic fantasy literature and get into some fresh work by someone new. Well, I may have decided that after hearing about this book. I came across it during the Amazon/Macmillan kerfuffle at the beginning of the year. As this book was set to release in March, it was used as an example of how Amazon was hurting the authors more than the publishers. Charlton is a new author so having Amazon pull his publishing house near the release date would really hurt his numbers if it wasn’t resolved quickly.
So I took a look at the book. The cover was intriguing, it had great blurbs from trusted sources and, and the title was a pun. Yes I love puns, deal with it. But the pun didn’t just end with the title, it extended throughout the book in a beautiful conceit. It was a high fantasy to boot, something that is losing steam in the publishing industry. This book was something I had to read. And a few months later, I checked it out of my local library. I can’t afford to go and buy hardcovers these days, and read it cover to cover blowing off the other things I should have been doing…
There aren’t just puns! There are also many fun linguistic twists that really tickled my love of language. The magic system is entirely based on language, so Charlton had many opportunities for word-play that he took advantage of.
I liked more than just the language of this cute, quick read of a book. The fantasy tropes were used in a fresh way. The main character, Nicodemus, is prophesied to save language but something wasn’t quite right. He has a language disability, what we’d call dyslexia, which affects his magical abilities in profound ways. Like I said in my last post, I really like when prophecies are used differently. “There was this prophecy, but it’s wrong and we can’t use it to guide our steps.” The notion brings a very realistic flair to the lives of our main characters and makes me appreciate their problems much more.
Much of the story is rooted more in the local and broad politics and religion of Nicodemus’ world. This is a complex and full world. On all levels, different powers have different magical languages and they all have their own political agendas. Charlton expertly weaves a complex political web, letting characters represent different factions and letting the conflicts center in one small place. The political, religious and academic factions cross paths seen from the front row inside a small wizard’s school. Yet this is no Harry Potter. Nicodemus must win a war to save language, but first he must overcome his own limitations.
Charlton also pulls from mythological traditions. As far as I could tell, Norse, Celtic and Greek. And then he pushes them around and alters them for his own uses. These gods are not just figureheads in stories, they are real beings and are seeking their own ends, but they must first get by the humans who oppose them. They are not all powerful and they have their own rules to live by. This makes them interesting and complex characters, and another layer of conflict.
Charlton’s style is smooth and I really didn’t have too many complaints about the story. If I have to put one in this post it would be about the pacing. It felt to me that he had the most tension built up for a turning point in the story as opposed to the final denouement, and the end didn’t wrap up nicely, but dragged out a little bit (hello sequel?).
I think I will buy the paperback when it comes out because I know I will want to re-read this book, and lend it out as well.
Fantasy: The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Scholarly: Wizardry & Wild Romance, A Study of Epic Fantasy – Michael Moorcock
Writing:(I’m slacking here)