Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster

Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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Quartz, Rabia Gale

Quartz, Rabia Gale

Quartz: the Sunless World

Rabia Gale’s Quartz: the Sunless World is a story of conflict in the dark, on a world where no sun shines and the quartz caves are vital to life. Rafe Grenfeld is a decorative social butterfly, a minor aristocrat known for his dancing. He’s also one of Oakhaven’s best spies, which is why he’s currently hiding from Blackstone’s secret police in a pile of potato peelings. Somewhere in Blackstone are hidden rumours of a legendary pillar of quartz, lost along with most of the world’s mages and relegated to the status of a myth. Unfortunately, Rafe isn’t the only one who’s heard these rumours, and killing is far from the worst thing his competition is willing to do to get there first.

Rabia Gale’s writing brings her story to epic life in the glare of gaslamps and the frenetic gaiety of a world clinging to survival by its fingernails. Quartz: the Sunless World introduces a rich and credible backdrop to the adventures of her characters, with a deadly political mire underlying the bright colours of high society. Rafe makes a gripping protagonist, his tendency to make wise-cracks irrepressible even when he’s on the verge of passing out, and the mysterious anti-hero, Isabella, with her links to a nearly extinct magic and her reluctance to reveal anything more than her name, is a refreshingly new take on the role. I would highly recommend this book – it’s a fast-paced and unique story.

Reviewed for Quality Book Works.

Flux, Rabia Gale

Flux, Rabia Gale

Flux: A Sunless World Novel

Flux is the sequel to Quartz: The Sunless World Book One, and follows Rafe as he flees the political dangers of Oakhaven to the exotic garden city of Monaria. Abandoned by Isabella, Rafe has been left in the care of Sable Monarique, once a notorious Oakhaven actress. Rafe and Sable, faced with the echoes of her family’s disgrace, have to overcome a series of obstacles in their quest to find teachers for Rafe’s unprecedented gift of magic, and quickly find themselves instead entangled in a murderous net of magic and intrigue and facing an enemy who has no care for the dead they leave behind them.

Rabia Gale’s intense imagery and incredible imagination make Flux just as rewarding and unique a read as Quartz, with skillful scene-setting and strong, consistent characters. Her ability to create detailed and plausible societies makes each of these books one of those stories that you go on thinking about long after you put it down, and then bring out to re-read on rainy days. Showcasing well-paced adventure, and plots ornamented with clues to keep the reader guessing, the character interactions and Rafe’s irrepressible sense of humour really make this a great read for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, or steampunk.