26 February, 2010

Review: Spellwright, by Blake Charlton

2010 will also be a year of challenges. For the first time I will get a copy of a book in two languages: English and German. I will read both and compare them. The German edition will be published in fall 2010. And this is the book: Spellwright (2010) [US] [UK] , by Blake Charlton which will get different covers in US (left) and UK (right).
The fastest way for me to get copy of the book was a download of a PDF version offered by Blake Charlton.
Readers who follow my posts know that I don't like to read books on my notebook.
But I was so eager to read Spellwright. I can tell you the reading was quite exhausting. After spending ten hours in front of a screen at work it was a pain to continue it at home.
I must admit the content of Spellwright was more than worth to take the trouble. But I don't want to repeat this procedure in near future except there is another awesome read.
Before I forget Spellwright is Blake Charlton's debut novel and at the same time the first book in the Spellwright trilogy and will be followed by Spellbound and Disjunction. but not his first writing experience. His short fiction Endosymbiont - which you can download in different formats here - has been published in the Seeds of Change anthology.
And now Let's have a look.....

You can't review Spellwright without talking about dyslexia, which
"is a learning disorder that manifests itself as a difficulty with reading, spelling and in some cases mathematics."
During his school time Blake Charlton had to cope with dyslexia. Read From Special Ed to Stanford Med for details. Blake's dyslexia has had a strong influence on Spellwright.

The Setup

I was thinking about either to write the setup in my own words or to skip and put a link instead or to post the author's text. Finally I decided to take Blake's text because his verbalizations are definitely not that quirky as my setup would be.
""Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.
Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.
Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.
Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.
But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one…and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves."" [Source]
My Take in Brief

What does Blake Charlton deliver on 352 pages ( yes, it is no door stopper) ?
From formal point of view Spellwright consists of a map, a Prolog and an Epilog which embrace 46 numbered and not too long chapters. It is a third-person narrated story. This is done via different person whereas the "hero" Nicodemus Weal covers the most.

The novel comes alive with ingredients which you know from other fantasy books: Gargoyles, golems, kobolds, demons, deities, villains, druids, wizards, apprentices, magic, prophecies, kingdoms, magical institutions from schools to confederations, and more... (psssst, you look for dragons? You lucky one. There is a red one...)

World wise we know from the map that there are six Kingdoms. But Spellwright is far away to be a travel quest novel. The most part of the story takes places in the magical academy Starhaven. All in all I found the world building sufficient. Of course it could be more but that would have led to a longer story.
Starhaven is in some case the grown up version of ... Hogwarts. Even apprentice Nicodemus Weal and his mentor Grand Wizard Agwu Shannon let you think of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore . But don't get me wrong. Spellwright is far more adult then the Harry Potter series. When I followed Nicodemus I also recognised that I compared him partially with Simon "Mooncalf", the "hero" of the awesome Memory, Sorrow and Thorne series by Tad Williams. I must admit that I like Nicodemus a lot. He is no super hero. There was a big smile on my face when I read that Nicodemus loves romances. For me the story of Nicodemus shows autobiographically traces (the youth, cacography - dyslexia). Blake Charlton used and transfered his own experience very well.

The story shows twists and turns. And the end is no big cliffhanger. Blake Charltons story telling is exceedingly charming, offers passion and twist you around the little finger within minutes.

So far I avoided to talk about the magic system because it is so incredibly sophisticated and unique that it deserves to be singled out. It is as extraordinary and well developed as the Allomancer concept by Brandon Sanderson.
Nicodemus held an introductory lesson about spellwriting. Let me quotes two passages which will give you a first glimpse:
"“So, how does one acquire magic language?” he asked, turning to the class. “Really it’s no different from learning a verbal or mathematical language.First, we learn the symbols. Verbal languages use letters, mathematical languages numbers, magical languages runes. However, anyone with a quill and an inkhorn can forge mundane text. Anyone with eyes can see mundane text. But to see or forge magical text, one must be born with a magically receptive mind.”" [p. 101]
"“So back to learning magical language. We’ve established that you all have literate minds. So armed, you can learn to forge runes within your muscles. And, as with any language, you will need to build a vocabulary and understand the grammar governing that vocabulary. After that, you will learn how to move the runes through your bodies, how to string them together in sentences, and finally how to cast them out into the world.”" [p. 102]
I don't want to go more into details because that would disturb your reading experience. But Let me emphasize that a misspell can cause serious problems from simple bone fractures over hazardous diseases like logorrhea where you vomit words and more up to death. To keep it short:

Spellwright breathes magic with every syllable!

Of course such a system needs explanations. I'm sure some people will say that the explanation are sometimes too long and influence the flow of reading. But not for me. Did you watch Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.and Judd Law? In case of yes you know that there are some fights where you get a detailed explanation about what will happen within the following seconds. And then you see the scene in normal speed. That was quite impressive and vivid. Blake Charlton does the same with his magic.

If you want to read one of the promising 2010 debut novels which is exceedingly charming, offers passion, breathes magic with every syllable and twist you around the little finger within minutes then there is no way out to read Spellwright.

I can't wait to read Spellbound and Disjunction. Well done Blake Charlton!

Bona Fide's Book Oracle

What is Bona Fide's Book Oracle? To keep it short. It is a palaver about the reviewed book held by ediFanoB and his alter ego Bona Fide. And I am the keeper of the minutes. Now read my minutes..

Bona: "
What the hell is that smell?" Fide[pinched]: "That was a SPELLWRONG! I casted FIND [Bona's nose] and SMELL (a sick donkey farting) instead of FIND [Bona's ear] and SOUND (a sick donkey farting)." Bona: "That smells horrible!! Luckily we don't use smogger, the advanced blogger tool." Fide: "Are you sure? Why is the keeper of the minutes suffocating? FIND and HIT [Keeper's nose]." Bona: "Ouch! Why did you hurt Keeper? His nose is bleeding." Fide: "That's quite simple. Pain superimpose smell." Bona: "Where did you learn SPELLWRONG er Spellwright?" Fide: "What a silly question. I read YDUTS-FLES A - SYAD NET NI THGIRWLLEPS. But nobody told me that I have to use a mirror to read it." Bona: "What else to expect from a brainless log." Fide: "You can't hurt me. FIND and CLOSE [Bona's Maul]." Bona [laughing]: "You can't mix two languages (MAUL is the German word for mouth, the keeper of the minutes). Fide: "I think I should stop SPELLWRONG and talk instead about Spellwright. I liked the gargoyles." Bona: "Are you insane? You can't speak about the book without getting tortured by me." Fide: "The times they are a-changin' ....." Bona[dumbfounded]: "...." Fide: "We need a doctor. Bona got tonguerrhea." Bona: "Shut up! Even you are a lousy wizard, the magic system of is plain and gorgeous at once in its uniqueness." Fide: "Where did you get that from? Too many drinks before our ravings? Shame on you!" Bona[fingers in ears]: "I can't hear you. I can't hear you." Fide: "In case someone is reading this. My sincerest apology. Forget Bona. Read Spellwright. It is exceedingly charming, offers passion and twist you around the little finger within minutes. What a debut of an author who definitely loves the genre." Bona: "As always it seems it is up to me to analyze Spellwright. You can't depend on Fide. Spellwright is such a ........" Fide[interrupting]: "book which you should read soon. We have to stop for now." Bona: "But...." I'm the keeper of the minutes. There has been plenty of time. But they talked about donkey farts. What shall I offer you dear Readers based on Bona and Fide's chitchat:

Spellwright is a must read because it is the first book where magic donkey farts are performed!

Please keep in mind that this is the opinion of Bona and Fide.
For a more serious appraisal read ediFanoB's take.

Some Amusing Spells

As I mentioned before is not without humor. Here are a few amusing spells:
The curse that had missed Nicodemus’s nose by inches had read, “FIND [John’s left butt cheek] and LABEL with (I’m a gelatinous poop sucker).”
Laughing uncontrollably, he cocked his massive arm and with an overhand throw cast “FIND and HIT [Devin’s right butt cheek].”
Simple John cast “FIND [Nicodemus’s ear] and SOUND (a sick donkey farting).”

More Blake Charlton

For more information about the author you can use following links: The official Blake Charlton website, Blake Charlton on Twitter, Blake Charlton on Facebook,

More Spellwright

Listen to The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy Podcast, Episode 8: Magic! Medicine! Fantic Episy!

If you live in California you can look forward to the SPELLWRIGHT Book Tour. First stop will be

March 14th, 2:00pm: Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA (event page)

Look here for further details.

Origin of the copy

I received a copy in PDF format from author Blake Charlton..


Bryce L. said...

I've really got to read this. Fart jokes never get old, just ask Scalzi and Card.

ediFanoB said...

I hope you like SPELLWRIGHT as much as I did.

Harry Markov said...

That was an interesting review to read. The convo between Bona and Fide is brilliant, but I suggest to separate the responses in new lines, so that it is more clear.

ANYWAY, a brilliant novel.

ediFanoB said...


thanks for compliment. I think you're right with your advice concerning the layout of the conversation. I will do some changes beginning with my next review.

Harry Markov said...

It just reads more natural. Otherwise, certainly a great touch to the review. I am tempted to try talking with myself about a book, but that is really your thing. :)

ediFanoB said...

I like my Bona and Fide conversation very much. It gives the review an individual touch and I kind of freedom to write things which you would put in a "normal" review.
Nevertheless you are free to do the same. I have no copyright and it is not my idea.
This is one of my models: Statler and Waldorf

Bryce L. said...

@ediFanoB - Don't listen to Harry, he has no idea what he's talking about...ever. :P

I have no idea how anyone can top Bona and Fide. Classic.

ibpurpledragon said...

Terrific review, lots of thought and depth.