Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans is the first book in a new adult fantasy series. This is Evans’ debut novel and it will be hitting the shelves September 13.
Since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.
But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.
Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.
I didn’t hate this book but I have so many issues with it and questions that are still unanswered after 400 pages. I very nearly DNF’d this at 100 pages and it did get better but not enough better to say I actually enjoyed it.
First off, this book starts with a bang which initially grabbed my attention. It starts right away with action which is always a fun way to start a fantasy and I’m totally fine with not immediately getting my introduction to the characters/world in this case. The problem was that I never got that introduction. The world building is basically nonexistent, like I should know what Bravi and Flowers and Azantani are. It was so much the case that I thought maybe it was some sort of cultural reference I didn’t know so started Googling but nope, that’s not the case. The Q&A with the author at the end seems to point to Constantinople but again, Google didn’t know it and while I’ll accept the burden of not knowing a cultural reference, I draw the line with ancient ones.
So the Bravi are some sort of street gang but I’m still not sure if they’re good or bad and they “dance” with their swords and run on rooftops so in my head, they are chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins. The Azantani are the rich people although also possibly a race as when someone says another person is Azantani, they don’t reference jewels or clothes of wealth, they reference skin and hair color. And why are they all wearing headwraps? Flowers I did figure out pretty easily. So 1 for 3!
The city itself is never explained at all except for the various parts and the ARC did indicate there will be a map. But as to the climate, architecture, place in time, etc., I have no idea. The author Q&A mentions this being a more modern fantasy setting and some things did seem that way like having a parquet floor but this world has swords and palanquins so then I just got confused.
The magic system was likewise confusing and poorly explained. I got the planes and delving, this was fairly well done and interesting although I’m unsure why Siyon could do it and how the location he went into seemed to change. But ok, this bit was fairly interesting. The “workings” being done in the Mundane were bizarre and I don’t get it at all. This is the kind of atmospheric magic a reader is just supposed to except that I hate. Combine that with random science-y words like “distillation” and I wanted to roll my eyes at this poorly thought out system.
Now let’s talk about characters, they were mostly fine. I have really no strong feelings about any of them. Siyon was the typical unlikely hero in over his head. Zagiri was promising at the beginning as a young woman fighting against her role in society but she quickly lost all of her spunk. Her sister was annoying and had a useless side plot. I didn’t understand Izmirlian at all. His “commission” was one of the main plots in the book and I don’t understand his motivations behind it.
In addition to these main characters, the book as a very large cast of side characters. All of these characters are called by their first and last names interchangeably and all of the names were long. I could not keep them all straight for the like of me. The names were too similar and the first name/last name switches was just way too much for my brain to process. They also started calling Siyon “Velo” way before making it clear this was his last name. These things are so frustrating as a reader as I thought I was being introduced to a new character only to find out several paragraphs later that it was Siyon.
Lastly, let’s talk about the actual writing. This is a debut and I read an ARC so I expected some bumpiness and that’s just what I got. Most of the issues were a lack of flow which I chalked up to the debut/ARC. Things like losing track of where these characters are. For example, at one point Siyon walks in somewhere and then randomly he is described as getting up from a windowsill. I didn’t know he sat down and it just said “he” so I got confused for a minute. This stuff I accept. However, the clunkiness in the multiple POVs was just too much to blindly accept. There’s a reason that so many authors label chapters with the narrator and while the starting the chapter and within a sentence or two making it clear who the current narrator is can work, it just didn’t here. Especially with trying to switch mid-chapter which was denoted with a little image (most of the time, I swear a few times the author forgot who the narrator was and it switched without warning). The voices were not distinct and the POV really only gave you a little insight into thoughts so it was really confusing when all of the characters were together to figure out who we were following.
In addition to these issues, there were also some bizarre turns of phrase that I don’t know if the author meant as normal writing or was trying to be playful or maybe this is how they talk in this world but they took me totally out of the story. What is “whimsical modern furniture”? This is the only way the furniture in one room is described and this description is used multiple times. Who says “farewelled my family”? That’s just weird. And then there were the really wordy things like “looked nothing like pleased to see him”. Can we just say “looked unhappy to see him” or another normal phrasing of that sentiment? I stopped writing these down after a while but you get it, the wording was odd and without the world building, I had no idea why.
So I didn’t enjoy this one. It wasn’t terrible and people who are into the more atmospheric reads and can overlook some major holes in world building might like this. But as you can already see in the reviews, I think this one will get a lot of DNF’s due to how confusing the first 100 pages are.
*I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.