[Book Review] Spellwright

Spellwright / Blake Chalton (Powell's Books)

Nicodemus Weal was once thought to be the prophesied Halycon, a powerful spellwright essential to mankind in the apocalypse known as the Disjunction.  But while Nicodemus can read and power magical text, his touch disorders runes and his his prose is inevitably misspelled.  Considered crippled, but still literate, he lives among wizards as still an apprentice.  Then a wizard is murdered with a powerful misspell, inflating the fear and distrust of cacographers such as Nicodemus, and his life is caught up in the machinations of factions wanting Nicodemus as their prophesied tool.


One thing I absolutely love about Spellwright is the concept of how dyslexia would affect a magic user.  Charlton executes this idea fantastically, along with some very clever wordplay.  This is the first book in a trilogy, and reads as such.  It tells a full story arc, and introduces us to the world, setting, and characters, but you can tell that there is more story to come.

Nicodemus is refered to as a ''cacographer'' - a wizard, or spellwright, who cannot spell.  Cacography is defined as 'bad spelling,' giving the source of the name given to Nicodemus' disability.  In the story Charlton explores what it means to be defined by your disability, as well as how one affects the life of a protagonist.  I have yet to encounter another fantasy novel that does anything close to what he has done with this book.

The magical system and the active inclusion of a disabled protagonist are the main reasons I picked Spellwright for the October Virtual Speculation read.  It is a book I enjoy reading, but not one in which the prose stands out to me quite on the same level as many of the other titles picked for this year.  But I like the exploration of ideas and the creation of a great dyslexic protagonist.

Discussion Fodder:
  • This book is filled with plays on words, but rarely in a playful or comedic manner.  Puns are "joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word."  The opening of the story has a grammarian literally chocking to death on her own words, unable to speak due to censoring.  Words can be sharp, magic is spelled.  What happens with wordplay turns serious?  How does it affect your processing of the text?
  • Ostensibly, Spellwright is about dyslexia.  Could it also apply to other diagnoses?  What about Devin and John, who are considered cacographers but who's spellwriting is effected by more than just the ordering of letters?
  • The higher magical languages are constructed with complicated runes, but we do get a glimpse of simpler languages such as Jejunus.  The syntax of Jejunus is that of command line instructions, parsing input and instruction.  Is the similarities in this magical system to computer programming languages unique or something common across magic systems?
  • One of the antagonists appears as a golem, a creature considered fictional in the setting of this story.  Do you think that golems make sense as a creature of fantasy or should they be a familiar creation in a world where magic words are so literal?  Is the place of a golem in a story reliant on the existence of gods?
  • Nicodemus talks about use of language, "I was thinking more that such language encourages you to stop thinking about the news and start thinking about me, which would have helped focus you on the lecture material.  Regardless, you must start thinking about such things now; if you are to become wizards, you must question how language is trying to manipulate you.  What is it pushing you to assume?  How is it distracting you?"  How do you evaluate the use of language around you, in conversation, in debate, in advertisements, in article headings?
  • Nicodemus hopes to be complete, to not be a "true" cacographer.  Shannon argues that even if his cacography is erased, it would not change anything.  Is one right or wrong, are both?
  • When Nicodemus touches magical text he corrupts it, misspells it. He can do this consciously or unconsciously, such as when walking through a hidden ward or elevating the consciousness of a gargoyle.  Is his cacography his greatest strength, or in fact, the liability everyone says it is?
  • Are, as Fellwroth claims, all prophesies false?  There are so many conflicting prophesies about the Disjunction.  Of the Halycon,  Peregrine, Oriflamme, a savior, a destroyer, or both.  Is it the prophecy or the translation?  How does context and personal framework effect the the art of prediction?
  • Language Prime consists of four characters, and makes up living things.  Is Language Prime DNA, or merely a similar structure?  How does Language Prime interact with ailments, such as the cankers and tumors caused by Fellwroth or the misspellings of a Language Prime spellwright?
  • Los, the first demon, was not always as such.  Is his story similar to the fall of Lucifer?  Are there other elements of biblical storylines in Spellwright?

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