This review contains minor spoilers of Spellwright, which is reviewed here.
Set ten years after the events in Spellwright, Nicodemus has left the Heaven Tree Valley and is now in the city of Avel, still pursuing the demon Typhon in an attempt to recover the Emerald of Aarahest, which contains the other part of his soul and the cure to his cacography. With it, he will be able to become the Halycon—a prophesied savior of magical language—instead of what he is now, the Storm Petrel—a prophesied destroyer of magical language. He’s determined to let nothing stop him in this quest, but then Francesca arrives and invokes feelings inside him that he’s never felt before.
Francesca is a cleric, no longer attached to the wizardly order, who uses her magic to help her patients. However, when Typhon’s reluctant avatar, Dierdre, dies on her table and then comes back to life, Francesca’s world view is shattered as she uncovers a demon’s secret plot to take over Avel and then the entire continent—not to mention the plans that the demon apparently has for her and her alone, plans that he’s had ever since Francesca first entered the city. It seems that her only hope will be to find the rogue wizard Nicodemus, but to do that she has to tag along with her ex-lover, Cyrus, the Air Warden of Avel.
A diverse and entertaining cast
The characters in Spellwright—Nicodemus, Shannon and Dierdre—were absolutely amazing. They were rough, that’s for sure, but they were still very believable and very interesting to me as a reader. In Spellbound, we have those same characters with the two major additions of Francesca and her old lover, Cyrus. There are also two wizards, Vivian and Lotannu, who show up in Avel aboard a warship with motives that no one can guess. Finally, Shannon’s ghost plays a role in the story—although a rather small one—but with the ghost comes an added perspective to the story that wasn’t previously present.
Nicodemus has matured quite a bit in the ten years since the events in Spellwright. Due to the effect his cacography has on the text he writes, he’s nearly abandoned the wizardly languages and has resorted to the kobold’s languages that he writes on his skin and doesn’t misspell. Nicodemus has become almost like a man raised by wolves during the ten years away from civilization—nomadic, untrusting and a bit of a loner.
Humor in epic fantasy? What madness is this?!
The writing throughout this trilogy has been above par, almost masterful, but the dialogue goes above and beyond in Spellbound. The back and forth between Francesca and Cyrus made me laugh out loud at multiple points in the novel. Francesca’s dialogue alone is hilarious. She’s a spitfire with a sharp tongue that she isn’t afraid to use on anyone. Francesca and Cyrus aren’t completely hogging the humor in Spellbound, however. Vivian and Lotannu have their banter as well, and Nicodemus has his own moments of extreme wit.
Humor is so rarely used in epic fantasy—at least, not humor that we can actually relate to—and it really adds something to a novel. Most epic fantasy is oh-so-serious and there’s absolutely no time for any kind of humor in such a world where the fate of humanity is at stake, but it makes the story so much more memorable when you give readers something to laugh at. The last time I saw humor used so liberally was in Mistborn; it’s used a bit more, and quite a bit better, in Spellbound. I seriously have to applaud Charlton for his masterful use of humor, which wasn’t overwhelming at all, instead providing just the right amount of brevity to give Spellbound that memorable quality.
Defying the standard trilogy setup
We all know the format for trilogies. The first book is an awesome introduction to the story and the world, leaving us wanting more. The second book comes out and we’re just kind of “eh” about it, because it’s obviously a transitory book used for almost solely for plot development and nothing really happens, so it’s boring. Then, the third book comes out and we’re all absolutely wowed by how well it wraps up the story. Granted, this is for most normal “good” trilogies.
In this case, the second novel is so much better than the first. Let me say that again, because I seriously doubt that you read what you thought you read. It’s better than the first. There, I said it. Charlton has seriously delivered in this second-novel-that-doesn’t-feel-like-a-second-novel. Spellbound reads like that first awesome novel that you just can’t get enough of, and it’s an amazing feat.
We see Nicodemus in the beginning of the novel, but then only sparingly until about two-thirds through when he steps up his game and plays more of a major role in the story. While I think that introducing new characters is important, failing to highlight your main character is a bit of a misstep when writing a novel. Along the same lines, another small complaint I have regards Cyrus. I found him to be a very interesting character, but once Francesca finds Nicodemus, he seems to only play a bit part, which didn’t do the character justice at all.
Why should you read this book?
Well, if you still haven’t raced off to the bookstore to buy it since reading the above, let’s go through a little list of why Spellbound is the best sequel I’ve read this year. Characters that you can really believe are part of that world? Check. Writing that leaves you fully immersed in the story? Check. The most unique magic system I’ve ever read about? Check. Plot twists and character developments galore? Check. Textual dragons, a bit of romance, some badass monsters and an evil mastermind? Check, check, check and check.
Charlton has impressed me more than I thought I could be impressed by an author. I went into this with high expectations after reading Spellwright, and I was still blown away. The Spellwright Trilogy is turning out to be one of the best trilogies of the decade, and I seriously cannot wait for the conclusion, which I’m pretty sure is going to amaze me even more than Spellbound did.
James received a review copy of Spellbound courtesy of Tor.