Review: CHARMCASTER by Sebastien de Castell

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 369
Release Date: September 18th, 2018
Series: SPELLSLINGER, Book 3
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Warning: Light spoilers ahead for earlier books in the series.  If you haven’t read them, here are reviews for SPELLSLINGER and SHADOWBLACK!

CharmcasterIt’s been six months since Kellan and Ferius figured out the Jan’Tep plot to infect children of influential families with a demonic worm that allows a mage to control a host and/or spy through their eyes.  Since then, they’ve been criss-crossing the land, doing their best to free the victims on the list. But on their way to Gitabria to free the last person, Kellan and Ferius run into a pair of Argosi who have concerns about a new invention being unveiled in the city in the next few days.  As Kellan and Ferius investigate, it becomes clear the continent is on the brink of war – but who is the one pushing everyone to the edge?

I wasn’t more than a handful of pages into CHARMCASTER before I remembered all over again why I love this series so much.  It’s an action-filled adventure ride, full of snark and characters you’ve fallen in love with, who you root for even if sometimes they act like idiots. As always, Ferius is my favorite character, the seemingly unflappable kind of person who always has one more move up their sleeve.  Except this time around, Kel is starting to realize that even Ferius is human, and the dangerous lifestyle they’ve been living may one day get his mentor killed.  And that’s when he starts acting like a noble idiot.  Kellan’s getting a bit better at surviving on his own, however, finally taking some of those Argosi lessons to heart.  Above all, he’s starting to learn which questions are the important ones to ask, a key step in him moving on from flailing about in the dark.

CHARMCASTER also sees the return of Nephenia, a character much improved upon from her time in the initial SPELLSLINGER.  In the acknowledgements, de Castell thanks one of his editors for pushing him to give her more agency, and I’d like to double down on the thanks.  Nephenia has gone from love interest to a woman who stands on her own two feet and has her own unique skills to bring to the table.  I will admit, the changes to her character were so jarring at first that I found myself flipping through previous books to see if I had forgotten something.  The timing of when she finally reveals the causes for her change (which comes very late in the book) makes sense character-wise, but this new Nephenia took some getting used to.

A small thing that did bug me was the introduction of the Berabesq, a desert-living nation who are very devoted to their God and are dedicated to wiping out heretics. They make only a brief appearance at the beginning of the book, which left them a largely stereotypical presence without much depth or nuance.  Cribbing from real-life cultures is obviously a time-honored tradition in fantasy, but whereas Gitabria (which seems to have Venetian/Italian influences) had time to breathe and show the wide-range of viewpoints in the culture, the Berabesq got the one brushstroke.  Perhaps future books will return and flesh out these people more, but for now, it left me a bit uncomfortable.

The SPELLSLINGER series has been the perfect read for escaping the insanity of our current world.  The books are utterly consumable, moving along at a brisk, but not overwhelming pace, with stakes that continue to escalate. I love the visuals of the magic duels, of the discordance cards of the Argosi, of Reichis the squirrel cat flinging himself at humans with wild abandon.  At the halfway point, I know this is going to be a series I’m sad to finish, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride!

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