Monday, October 3, 2016

Short-cut to the Library

Review: Bookworm by Christopher Nuttall

Legions of schoolboys would love to believe that they could fall asleep on a pile of schoolbooks, and wake having absorbed all the required reading within. But for Elaine, who loves to read, a curse has handed her this result. Not for her schoolbooks, but for the entire contents of the Empire's Library, a repository of magical tomes—some of which are banned.

Elaine became a Librarian because her level of power for practicing magic was quite low. Without any more power, she now has a deep and complete understanding of magic, as well as the Empire's history, and secrets that have lain hidden in the Library's Black Vault. 

This series follows by several centuries the tale of Emily, who brought physical, chemical science to this world from Earth, as told in Nuttall's 10-volume Schooled In Magic series. This later Empire is still linked by Emily's steam-engine trains, but the old tension between "town and gown" remains. In this world, however, "gown" is the garb of the magic-user, while the "town" is filled with "mundanes" who possess no magical powers.

To make matters worse, the capital city has entered into a time of chaos between the death of one ruling Grand Sorcerer and the selection of the next. The Inquisitors who would normally answer to this ruler are now free to enforce the regulations without oversight—and it is strictly illegal for Elaine to have the knowledge the curse has planted in her mind!

Nuttall has crafted another delicious story of a world where magic follows strict rules, just like any other "science," and where people do not become superhuman just because they possess powers we do not. If anything, most of Nuttall's magic users are surpassingly petty and unempathetic. 

Not excluding the heroine Elaine. 

In fact, the tale's most empathetic and thoughtful characters may be the ominous Inquisitor Dread, whose task it seems to be to catch Elaine in a crime, and the socially active Daria, her roommate and friend, who has assigned herself the role of matchmaker for the socially awkward, shy Elaine.

I look forward with great anticipation to the next three books in the series. If they are as intensely engrossing as this first, I will be finished reading them shortly!

Liner Notes:

  • Inappropriate for younger readers. This novel contains several graphic sexual scenes and multiple comments about diverse sexual practices. While not totally gratuitous, these scenes can easily be skipped if your taste, like mine, is for less detail in such matters.
  • Some character's names (and backstories) are obvious nods to other novels. One contender for the Grand Sorceror title comes from a kingdom named "Gor," for example, where "women are expected to remain silent and obedient." His name is (snicker) "Vlad Deferens."
  • The author uses the British term "revise" where American English users would write "review." Since the opening scenes of the novel portray anxious students cramming (swotting) for exams, a jarring multiple occurrence of the term finally sent me to the Kindle dictionary. After, unfortunately, I had already marked it twice as a typo.