Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-03-21 20:05:25 UTC
Hundreds of years ago there was a Necromantic war when the dead
walked and the fallen became part of the foe. Civilization almost
fell, and the world still bears the scars of that awful conflict.
Now the Grand Sorcerer holds sway over all lesser practitioners of
magic, and appoints Court Sorcerers to act as the power behind the
throne for all the Empire's constituent kingdoms, keeping the power
of the nobility in check as well. There are still plenty of problems,
but in general the system has worked to build a livable society and
hold back any further gathering of adverse magic. But now the Grand
Sorcerer is dying, and if history teaches anything it is that the
interegnums between Grand Sorcerers are fraught.
None of which concerns Elaine overmuch. An orphan girl in a city
where the lot of an orphan is not a happy one, she displayed enough
magical ability to qualify for a post in the Grand Library working
essentially as one of many gophers for the Librarian. Her talent
is very small, but enough that with Academy training she is able
to participate in fetching and shelving the magical books that the
Library was created to contain (in both senses of the word).
As part of the Grand Sorcerers' policy to keep dangerous magic in
check, all suspicious books come to the Library eventually, and
when a minor noble with pretensions to adept status dies, it falls
to Elaine to catalog his book collection. There's certainly no
reason to expect anything out of the ordinary but when she starts
to unpack the boxes she happens to touch one book and her world is
Somehow she has triggered a spell which infuses her mind with the
contents of ALL the books in the Grand Library including the most
powerful and forbidden ones. Her magical power level hasn't changed,
but now she can apply her small talent with more skill than any
person on the planet..
This book came up in my Amazon recomendations and since the price
was right (only $3.99) and the description sounded interesting, I
took a flyer on it and ended up quite enjoying it.
Nuttall's world is an interesting one, somewhere in the intersection
of Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy and Steampunk. The combination of
magic and technology advanced to the point of steam engines gives
the characters a fairly comfortable urban existence but the overlay
of tiny kingdoms and ancient epic evil keeps it from being exactly
a Victorian setting with magic.
After the initial plot driver of giving Elaine skills that make her
potentially very valuable and kill-on-sight dangerous, the plot
does meander for a little while, but eventually kicks into high
gear and comes to a fairly satisfying conclusion (with plenty of
room for follow ups).
It's not a perfect book. Elaine's relative powerlessness is
over-harped on, and there are some instances of overly modern
language that threw me off a bit (of course as far as the characters
are concerned, they *do* live in a modern setting). Elaine is also
very reluctant to actually *act* sometimes. She has all of these
things she now knows she can do, but often does not have the gumption
to actually follow through on. I think it's a character development
touch, something like the way Kitty Norville has gradually developed
into an alpha character, but it's handled a bit awkwardly at some
points. The same could be said for her surrogate daughter/pupil
relationship with the inquisitor who may have to have her killed.
One thing I did like and that worked for me was when the author had
Elaine do something that struck me as rather random and a bit of a
stretch, but which in fact turned out to be perfectly logical.
Nuttall has obviously read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and
throws in a a number of references to other works. I caught
references to Larry Niven's "Warlock" stories, John Norman's "Gor"
stories, and Judge Dredd. There were a couple of other scenes that
I'm sure were reference to things that I did not get -- perhaps you
have to be British for some of them...
On the whole despite a few rough patches, this is an interesting
and fun little book, and I hope it gets a sequel. Certainly the
mastermind who set in motion the events that emesh Elain is still
around and still spinning his centuries long web of plans..