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Book: “Notorious Sorcerer” by Davinia Evans
Publishing Info: Orbit, September 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the author!
Book Description: Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality.
Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea.
It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it.
Review: This is one of those books where the title was doing a lot of the work in my reasoning for picking it up to review. Plus, I thought the cover was pretty cool. Other than that, I really only understood it to be a fantasy novel that involved alchemy somehow and may or may not be a portal fantasy. But I’m always game for an unknown debut book, so I was excited when I received an ARC from the author.
Bezim is a land strictly divided by the haves and have nots. Those in the upper class have easy access to education and, through that education, magic, while those in the lower classes must struggle by. Of course, alchemy is a magic that has its dangers as well as its powers, so a firm understanding of its uses is necessary to prevent some of the horrific disasters that have been suffered in the past. But for Siyon, he’s happy enough to live somewhere in the middle, patching together his own small time alchemy with very little adherence to the rules that are meant to govern it. That is until he performs a shocking act of magic that both impresses and concerns all who witness it. For now, the future of Bezim is in question again and it seems only an unlearned amateur may be capable of saving it.
This was definitely one of those middle-of-the-road books for me. There was nothing glaringly wrong with any of it. And, in fact, much that was right. Yet, I still struggled to feel fully immersed in the story. The pacing is fast right from the start, with the story galloping along from one action-packed scene to the next. On one hand, this made the story a fun, quick read. But on the other hand, I felt like I was struggling to fully connect to the characters I was meeting on the page, as they were so quickly vaulting from one action set piece to another, with very little time given to any sort of introspection.
I did really like the magic system we were given, and the interesting ways that staples from classic portal fantasy and other alchemy stories were woven together. There was enough that was familiar to make the story approachable (and to help with the fact that, again, the fast pacing left less room for lengthy explanations than other, slower fantasy novels), but there were a lot a lot of original ideas on display as well.
I had also heard a lot of references in early blurbs of the book to the funny and light-hearted tone of the story, and those definitely check out. But, again, I wasn’t necessarily blown away by any of comedic elements. For one thing, I began to struggle with Siyon as a main character when it came to this balance of comedy and primary protagonist. His character is introduced as an “act first, think second” type of person, and we see that again and again. Some of this plays to great comedic affect. But there also came a point when he had been warned again and again about the dangers of alchemy and continued to hand-wave these warnings away. After a bit, I began to feel more frustrated by his poor decision-making than amused.
Overall, this was a perfectly fine debut fantasy novel. There was a lot of potential every where you looked: intriguing world-building, humorous writing, interesting characters. But it also felt like every one of these aspects could have been fleshed out just a bit more to make something truly noteworthy. That said, fans of fast-moving, action-packed fantasy novels should definitely check this one out.
Rating 7: A quick, fun read, but perhaps lacking some of the depth I look for to make a book really feel like it’s going to stick with me.
“Notorious Sorcerer” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Alchemy Books.