Blake Charlton has done the extraordinary with Spellright. He has managed to use all the tired tropes of classic Epic Fantasy (magical books, dragons, a school for wizards, and a boy who didn't fulfill his destiny) and make them all feel fresh and engaging. Plus he does it with a main character, Nicodemus Weal, who you can't help but to root for.
The dragons, although they happen off screen, are quite inventive as are the various animated helpers that swarm the keeps and grounds of Starhaven, which is the school in question. Nicodemus is an apprentice spellwright also known as authors who suffers from a form of magical dyslexia known as Cacography, which is based off the authors own battles with it. Of course the story also involves prophecies about a special Wizard who could be a a great hope to the land or harbinger of the demons of the past who wish to control the world.
There are a few bumps in the road, but most are forgivable in the name of fun escapist Fantasy. The pacing was a little stop and go, especially in the first third. The magic systems while also the strongest and most original part of the book are initially a bit confusing, but about 100 pages in a much clearer explanation is given. This could have come a tad sooner, but it probably would have slowed down the pacing of the story if it had. Also, at one point the main villain comes off a a little too much like a bad Bond nemesis by over explaining himself and the plot, which was on the excessive side. More than one soliloquy happens like this. This problem may stem from the author trying not to drag things out. Lastly, the fight at the end of the story was worth waiting for, but the very last section felt a little tacked on and Eragon-like. Still Charlton at least condensed a fairly long time frame in a short number of pages instead of stretching a training story into a whole other book as Paolini did.
There are many different wizard factions each with their own view points and magics. The histories shared from each group were quite fascinating, although there is plenty left to reveal in future installments. Charlton has also sneaked in one of my favorite and criminally underused mythical constructs, which I'd love to mention but he went through pains to make it a big reveal. The style is heavily influenced by the likes traditional Epic Fantasy from Feist, Le Guin, and Tad Williams so don't go expecting some gritty, harsh Fantasy. Blake is being evocative of something more playful yet every bit as Epic as all the aforementioned names. A whole lot of foreshadowing goes on, which was expected given it is planned trilogy.
Even though Spellwright is Charlton's debut it certainly doesn't show many freshman jitters, but he has left himself room to grow. If you're a fan of classic style Epic Fantasy this will be a must for you. I give Spellwright 8 out of 10 Hats. Spellwright is definitely in the running for debut of the year so far and it would be surprising if it wasn't still near the top by the end. Bring on Spellbound. Now he's gotten me all in the mood to read some classic Robin Hobb.
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