Book Review: Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 3 of Spellslinger
Publisher: Orbit (September 18, 2018)
Length: 448 pages
Once more, we join our protagonists the exiled mage Kellen, his Argosi mentor Ferius, and the unhinged squirrel cat Reichis on a road trip to their next destination in this third installment of the Spellslinger series. Building upon the events of the first two books, Charmcaster takes us out of the desert and into the land of Gitabria, where our characters are hoping to track down and help the first of many victims targeted by a Jan’Tep conspiracy. However, being a wanted man himself, Kellen finds his every step dogged by mercenaries. But then in a twist of fate, his latest confrontation with a group of bounty hunters leads him to rescue another mage on the run, who turns out to be none other Nephenia, an old friend (and secret crush) from his life before exile.
After a brief recuperation, our characters continue to make their way to the capital, where they get the chance to witness the unveiling of a miraculous new invention. While most of the crowd is blown away by the spectacle, only a few, including Ferius, are aware of the threat this could spell for the entire world if this technology were to fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, it appears that dangerous factions have already caught wind of the groundbreaking innovations happening in Gitabria, for the inventor’s daughter turns out to be one of their targets. After experiencing first-hand the devastating results of his enemies’ methods in the last book, Kellen is determined to do whatever it takes to free the girl from their evil influence.
Following the trend established by Shadowblack, we are introduced to a new setting, new cultures, and new side characters in this next chapter of Kellen’s journey. That said, the format feels very episodic in that each volume features a self-contained adventure, but together they make up an overarching series plot. As such, it is still imperative to start from the beginning and read the books in order.
That said, I am starting to notice a few repetitive patterns in the storytelling. The introduction paralleled the opening chapters in the previous book, which begins with an attack that our heroes barely manage to thwart and ends with them getting a new addition to their party, but for some reason I felt it took things in Charmcaster a lot longer to take off. On the bright side though, I did delight in seeing Nephenia again, despite her character being much changed from the girl Kellen used to know. A significant part of this book deals with the fallout of what has happened back home while our protagonist has been on the run, and some of this involves why Nephenia has become so different. In fact, I would say the strength of this novel is in the character and relationship building, because although we see the overall plot moving forward, it’s admittedly not by much.
Still, I am enjoying myself. Like its two predecessors, Charmcaster is fun, lively, and…well, charming. Sebastien de Castell continues to expand his world-building, adding even more detail and intrigue to this already rich setting. In Gitabria, our characters encounter a new land with different culture, politics, and traditions. They meet new people who teach them—and us—new things. Case in point, one of my favorite encounters in this book allowed both Kellen and the reader a glimpse into Ferius’ mysterious past, revealing that she too was a very different person in her youth. And of course, Reichis was his usual crass self, delivering most of the comic relief. As for Kellen, there were several interesting developments for his character too, mainly focusing on the deteriorating effects of the shadowblack and what this means for his mental capacities and how others treat him. In addition, Kellen is forced to face the harsh truth about his family and come to terms with the fact they are not the people he once thought they were. Needless to say, this book sees our protagonist growing up fast, whether he likes it or not.
But therein lies the beauty of this series. Kellen began this whole thing as a naïve and sheltered boy of fifteen, but gradually he is becoming a man. Every adventure is a learning experience for him, and with each book, the lessons are getting harder. Compared to the first two books, I felt that Charmcaster was slightly darker in tone, presenting Kellen with problems that are more complicated and disturbing. Still, our protagonist has retained the essence of who he is, the goodness that allows him to make the right decisions, and for that I am grateful to the author.
All told, every step of this journey has been great so far, and even though Charmcaster didn’t quite command my attention the way Spellslinger and Shadowblack did, I felt the book’s strengths came through in different ways. I can’t wait to see what’s next.