This story starts off with a bang. Liz Prospero, the only non-magical person in a long line of sorcerers, goes to her brother John’s graduation from Alton a sorcerous university. While there, the graduation speaker turns out to be a madman hell bent on killing all the attendees. Little do the Prospero siblings realize that this attempt at violence is the beginning of a very difficult and dangerous time in magical society. Both siblings are forced to shoulder responsibility ahead of their time and become stronger people as a result.
In her first novel, Anne Cordwainer introduces the reader to a world of “modern” magic. The Sorcerer community is not caught in the medieval time warp common to this genre. You will find no old men wearing long flowing robes, or ladies with pointed hats running about in this novel. Gone too are potions lessons with frog entrails, bezoars, and broom lessons. No these sorcerers carry cell phone and will use taxis and the subway for short trips. In this world, magic is more like science. These days no one (except isolationist sorcerers) carries around wands. They have ovaths for shielding, a scrying screen, a shont, and a mentarch for mind reading. This magical society progresses with the rest of the “Mundane” society. In addition, the magical community is largely integrated with the mundane society and does take some responsibility for keeping regular people safe when necessary.
However, this society is somewhat backward in terms of hierarchical structure. There is no magical authority. There are no police, no parliaments, or ministers of magic. Sorcerer society depends heavily on the family to police themselves. Each family has a head. That head is responsible for major magical decisions like punishment. Basically the family head keeps everyone on the straight and narrow. If problems arise that are too large for the family to handle, they ask other families (usually relatives) to help. As a result, the old fashion community is very strong. However, there are things that are beyond a small community’s ability to handle and lack of central government sets the stage for all the terrible things that occur.
This society does have one real downside- mental instability. Yes, magic gives the sorcerers many benefits, but it comes at a cost. Irrational behavior is not something sorcerers take lightly. As you will see from the book, mental instability is becoming a much bigger much more common problem. During the 10 year span over which the novel takes place, John and Liz (surprisingly) have to battle more and more unstable sorcerers. As the amount of attacks increase, and the death toll rise, hysteria sets in the magical community. Surprisingly, fewer and fewer people are willing to take on renegade sorcerers. So, Liz and John as well as their comrades in arms must unravel the mystery of who is terrorizing the magical community and must come to terms with the fact that their previous way of life needs to change if they are to survive.
I thought this was a fantastic read. It is very difficult in a post-Harry Potter world to find a fantasy story that is very unique. Well this book is such a story. The publisher, Cloth Press) described this book as being urban fantasy. I understand what they meant now. It does take place in various cities. Also it deals with widespread chaos (terrorism) in the magical community. This book is definitely not a cutesy story with an innocent protagonist and an archetypical bad guy. They characters are very real and very flawed. There were moments that the characters (and reader) begin to have doubts as to the motives of other characters. This book is also written in a “story cycle,” which is something Anne and I will discuss during the podcast. This is different from a story like Harry Potter where the reader tags a long for the ride for 7 years. You get glimpses of the characters lives. These glimpses do create an interesting yet different kind of character study. So if you are interested in leaving the unicorns, broomsticks, and potions behind, then this is the book for you.
P.S. As the book does not answer the question “what causes mental instability in sorcerers,” I’m fully expecting that there will be a second novel.