Nicodemus Weal has trained at the stronghold of Starhaven since he was a boy. His mentor, the famous wizard Magister Shannon, taught him how to cast spells made from luminescent magical runes, how to peel written words off a page and make them physically real. Initially, Nicodemus showed great promise. Able to forge runes with great speed, he was once thought to be the Halcyon – a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent the apocalypse known as the Disjunction.
There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell. Every time he touched a magical text, he unintentionally corrupted it, creating a dangerous, potentially deadly misspell. Now aged twenty-five, while his peers advance as wizards, he is still an apprentice, dealing with the devastating knowledge that he has failed to live up to prophecy.
But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are factions who believe someone like Nicodemus could hold great power – power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will.
Nicodemus Weal’s magical career started with promise. Born with a birth mark that marked him as the Halcyon – a spellwright prophesied to prevent an apocalyptic event known as the Disjunction – he started his studies at Starhaven well, quickly grasping how to forge the runes necessary for spells to take effect. However it soon emerged that Nicodemus was a cacographer – a person who cannot weave runes together to make spells. When he tries, the spells fall apart to deadly effect or have unforeseen consequences. With little hope of becoming a full spellwright, Nicodemus now works with his mentor, the famous Magister Shannon who is in the minority of wizards sympathetic to cacographers and lives with fellow cacographers Devin and Simple John.
However there are others who believe that Nicodemus still has a role to play in the prophecy, just not the one that he initially thought. Evil has come to Starhaven – spreading murder and suspicion in its wake and pulling Nicodemus to a future that he could never have contemplated.
Blake Charlton’s original debut draws on his own dyslexia to form the basis of the original and incredibly detailed magical system underpinning his world. The combination of runes, the depiction of different languages and the way these combine to bring magic effect is well thought through and forms the backbone of this story. No less developed is Nicodemus’s own cacography which is central to his life and Charlton makes Nicodemus’s struggle to deal with and overcome his disability such an integral part of him that you cannot help but will him on – sharing his frustration and despair at every failure.
The story itself is also clever – taking as its premise the notion of a hero who has failed to live up to a prophecy and weaving in the notion of anti-prophecy to keep the action driving forward. Charlton clearly has fun bringing out different interpretations of prophecy to flesh out his world and set a background of conflict and intrigue to the adventure.
Saying all this, there are times when Charlton gets so caught up in explaining how aspects of his world work that it slows the action. It would also have been useful for the publisher to have included a glossary because I occasionally found myself confused, while the ridiculously small font spoilt my enjoyment. However, there’s a great set-up for a sequel and I will be reading on.
With its original take on magic that uses dyslexia as its starting point, this is an imaginative and well thought through fantasy that takes traditional fantasy tropes and subverts them to good effect. At times the explanations do get in the way of the action, but it’s a small price to pay for something so different and enjoyable.
Cross-posted to books, bookworming and fantasywithbite.