by Blake Charlton
Tor Books
Hardcover – $24.99 (discounted at Amazon and elsewhere)

Reviewed by Superwench83

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not so in Blake Charlton’s world. In his novel Spellwright, not only can words break your bones, but they can chop off your limbs, stab your heart, and create all sorts of mayhem. Combined with a classic fantasy plot and a sympathetic hero, this high-concept idea becomes a story that is utterly fresh, while retaining that familiar fantasy genre feel.

Even if you read Spellwright for nothing else, the magic system alone makes this novel worth your time. This is a book for language lovers. A magic system based wholly on the written word. But not the written words as we know it. In Spellwright, magicians use their bodies to form their spells, forging letters from muscles and rolling them down the arm and off the hand. Different languages affect the world in different ways. One, for example, is a physical language. It can be used to create solid barriers, where the words act as densely-packed molecules to form physical objects. And with a magic system built around the written word, spellcasting requires proper spelling. It’s like HTML and other computer languages—one wrong letter can alter things enormously. Except that faulty HTML generally isn’t lethal.

In a world where magical power depends on a magician’s ability to spell, someone with a spelling problem is someone with a disability. Such people are called cacographers in Spellwright. And that’s one of the things I really found interesting about this book. It examines both the way our society views people with disabilities and the way they view themselves. Even more interesting is that Blake Charlton knows firsthand what his cacographer protagonist is feeling. Severely dyslexic himself, he spent his school years in learning disabled classes and struggled with reading until he discovered fantasy books. His personal understanding makes Spellwright a poignant look at the life of those with learning disabilities.

The protagonist Nicodemus Weal’s struggle is a sympathetic one, and the grace with which he handles it makes him endearing. The only real complaint I have with this book is that I wish the secondary characters had been as endearing as Nicodemus. I felt that they lacked the appeal which Nicodemus had because their conflicts weren’t as personal as his. While likeable, they didn’t inspire the same love as Nicodemus did.

Spellwright is a story with a prophecy, a magician, and a dragon. It also gives whole new meaning to such words as “ghostwriting” and “purple prose.” I loved being able to read a story with such a classic genre plot without feeling like I’d read this book a hundred times before. It’s like painting a beige room red—it’s the same room, but with a whole new look entirely. Spellwright is a wonder-filled and exciting read, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book.