Aidan's Reviews > Spellwright

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
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's review
Dec 15, 09

bookshelves: my-books
Read in December, 2009, read count: 1

This is an excerpt, for the full review please visit my blog, A Dribble of Ink:

It’s obvious from the very early pages of Spellwright that Blake Charlton is a child of late-eighties and early-ninties Fantasy. It’s full of dastardly villains, righteous youths and hidden destinies. Like contemporaries Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett, Charlton is doing his damnedest to bring back the type of fantasy where the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad (barring a few genuinely surprising twists in the final pages) and the fate of the world’s at risk of being overrun by demon hordes.

And that’s not where the comparisons to Brett and Sanderson end. Both of those novelists are known for their intricate, imaginative magic systems, which are not only cool spectacles and a catalyst for visceral battle scenes, but also intimately woven into the plot and world of their stories, and Charlton’s work is no different. Spellwriting, which gives the caster the ability to ‘write’ complex magical formulas–much like a computer programming language–and manifest nearly anything they can think of (including cognizant, living spells called constructs and golems), is at the centre of Charlton’s story, with the main hook being that the protagonist, Nicodemus Weal (who was once thought to be a hero from prophecy) is a cacographer, a dyslexic Spellwright who can neither write his own spells nor come in contact with another’s spell without causing disastrous results.

The history of this character’s disability can be traced directly back to Charlton’s own struggles growing up with severe dyslexia, and this gives a real weight to Weal’s struggles, as one might consider the novel to have a semi-autobiographical nature, though surely Charlton never had to face the idea that only his disability was standing in the way of saving the world from certain doom. Spellwriting and Weal’s struggle to come to terms with his disability are certainly the meat of the story, given the generic overall plot of the novel (demons are bad, want to take over the world, et al.), and for the most part gives the reader a compelling reason to stick with the novel.


Speaking of which, world-building and setting are light in Spellwright, with most of the novel taking place in the confines of Starhaven a magical academy for Spellwrights, but with a more grown-up, academical air than Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, and a shadowy, ancient history not unlike that established for Green Angel Tower in Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy. Though ostensibly an Epic Fantasy from the outside, Spellwright’s narrow setting, intimate plot and tight cast of characters reminds one of classic Sword & Sorcery novels, including James Enge’s recent novel, Blood of Ambrose (minus the foreskin jokes, of course).


Charlton might not win over the Abercrombie/Martin/Lynch crowd, but there’s certainly something there for fans of you-know-who-to-root-for Fantasy, and those who grew up on Brooks, Williams and Feist will certainly find a lot to like about Spellwright. Though not perfect, Charlton’s inventive debut is comfortable in its tropes, but also willing to turn convention on its head and remind us of that sense of wonder than drew us to Fantasy in the first place.
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