Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review - "Spellwright" by Blake Charlton

Spellwright is a new entry in the fantasy genre. In this world, spells are literally written and cast. There are a number of languages, and each has letters (or runes), grammar, and syntax. The main character, Nicodemus Weal, is a cacographer, meaning he has a tendency toward misspelling. He also has an unusual scar on the back of his neck, which may or may not mean he's the Halcyon of prophecy. But if he can't spell, how can he be this chosen one?

Nicodemus has friends with him, and he discovers some enemies who want to kill him. His teacher is an elderly wizard named Agwu Shannon, and his roommates are Simple John and Devin, also cacographers. He also meets a druid named Deirdre, who has a dark secret, and Amadi Okeke, a former student of Shannon's. Right from the beginning of the story is a strange creature clothed in white, who seems to be hunting Nicodemus. And what's going on with the terrifying nightmares he suddenly has? Soon, he finds out about an emerald that may be able to heal him of his disability, and he determines to find it. But will the creature in white stop him first?

At first I had a hard time envisioning physical strings of text being written and thrown into the air, but soon I was engaged in the world Blake Charlton has created, and his descriptions made it easier for me to visualize this phenomenon. It's an ingenious twist on magic, stemming from the author's own childhood struggle with dyslexia. Literally spelling magic spells also has a broader meaning, that words and language are powerful, and just because Nicodemus has a disability that will prevent him from becoming a strong wizard doesn't mean he is broken or incomplete. He spends the book coming to terms with the way he views himself, and what he finds along the way means he may have to change his outlook.

Charlton doles out history and other information through conversations, not blocks of explication. Some mythological events seem familiar, like the Apocalypse or Crusades, but only as much as one cultural myth resembles another. He definitely has created a world with its own rules, geography, and creatures and people-groups. Teen readers, especially those with some kind of learning disability, should enjoy this story. Adults too will find much to like. Anyone who feels inadequate in some way or who struggles with their limitations--and who among us hasn't?--will identify with Nicodemus. This book has an ending, but it is a rather bleak one. However, there are still plenty of loose ends to be tied, so take heart that there is another delightful tale on the way.

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