The Royal Sorceress. However it was written by one of my favorite authors, Chris Nuttall, founder of Changing the Times. I decided to support him and bought a copy for my Kindle App. It was an excellent decision because I really did enjoy this book.
One of the first reasons I enjoyed the novel was its setting. The Royal Sorceress is as much an alternate history novel as it is a magical adventure. Its 1830 and the British Empire reigns supreme as the most powerful nation on Earth. This dominance has occurred because during the early days of the American Revolution, magic was discovered and quickly understood. Thanks to magic the Revolution was stopped at its inception during the Battle of New York. George Washington’s army is defeated and eventually the Founding Fathers were arrested, killed, or went into hiding. As the British grow to understand magic better they use it to ensure their position as a global power. France, Russia and the Ottoman Empire are all left in weaker positions thanks to Britain’s predominance in magic. The British eventually use magic to help them develop more advanced technology and this furthers their advantages (steam powered airships, magical lighting, earlier rapid fire weapons to cite a few examples). This isn't a fantasy land with places I've never heard of with arcane monarchies or evil kingdoms, it’s just a different version of our world which is far easier to understand and connect with.
Connecting and caring about this alternate Earth was also made possible because of the wonderful description of places and people. Despite its place on the world’s stage, England itself is suffering all the problems of the Industrial Revolution. There is corruption in government and high society. Masses of poorly educated improvised people struggle to survive while those of noble birth live well with no concern for those below them. Troublemakers are imprisoned in the Tower or London or exported to America, Australia, or South America. This is where the conflict lays in The Royal Sorceress; a social conflict between the masses and the elites. I really liked how this was the focus of the story and not the magic itself. Magic is a tool of the various characters nothing more, having very simple rules behind its use and thus not confusing or worse boring the reader with them.
The sorceress named in the title is Lady Gwendolyn Crichton, our protagonist. Gwen is from an upper class family. She has been educated through private tutors and lived a relatively sheltered life. Gwen though is not a prissy overbearing person like her mother, concerned with the rules and order of high society. She’s smart and feels that the random draw of her birth has constrained her. She is also frustrated at the beginning because she cannot practice her natural talent, she has magic. It is believed that magic in women is rare and only men are trained as magicians. Gwen probably would never have been allowed to grow her talents if she wasn't a Master. In the story magicians can master a single talent such as blazers who can produce fire or energy. There are rare special individuals though known as Masters who can have all the powers. Gwen is sought out by Master Thomas the current Royal Sorcerer. Since no new male Masters have been found and all the others have died; he has to take on Gwen as his apprentice. Thomas takes Gwen to the school of magic, Cavendish Hall where she begins her studies.
Our antagonist for the story is a rouge magician named Jack. He takes on the identity of ‘Captain Swing’ and he has returned to England with one goal in mind, to bring down the government. Jack is a strong antagonist because he is actually in the right. The lower class of England and its empire are being exploited. They don’t have freedom or choices, let alone a real chance to climb out of poverty. You might disagree with his methods, but can you really say Jack’s goal of changing the status quo is wrong? He’s the contrast of Master Thomas who stands for that order, for the old world. Both characters will end up pulling on Gwen who finds herself in the middle. Another positive to Jack’s character is that he is not perfect. The man will make mistakes in the story and he doesn’t have any real idea what do once his revolution succeeds. Too often efforts to make the antagonist powerful or exciting result in them being ‘too smart’ or ‘too evil’. Jack is neither. He simply wants change for the better.
The secondary characters of the story are also well done. We get a nice slice of how magical powers have affected people. Some are arrogant, believing it makes them superior. Chris does a nice job of incorporating the ideas of the 1800s of evolution, Social Darwinism, and plain old assholes who believe magic simply makes them better. They are contrasted with the more normal people who have magic but use it serve the country. The best thing that can be said of all the other characters in The Royal Sorceress is they come off as real people of the time.
The Royal Sorceress is an excellent tale of a young woman who is forced to grow quickly into a leader. Gwen is a believable character who is living in a well fleshed out alternate world. The characters from those who are Gwen’s allies and those who are her enemies come off as real people. Our strong protagonist is met by an equally strong antagonistic in Jack, a man who may be doing terrible things for the right reasons. I recommend The Royal Sorceress if you are a fan of alternate history and magic. Even for those who fantasy isn’t a real interest, the story delivers because the magic is secondary to the social conflict going on. I also like the possible set up for a sequel formed at the end of the book (want to know what it is, go buy it!).
I highly recommend Chris’s first published novel. It’s clear why this got picked up, it’s very good. The Royal Sorceress is currently available in electronic format and will be out in paperback February 2013. A free sample of The Royal Sorceress can be downloaded from Chris’s site.
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John Trofimuk is "gtrof" at Counter Factual.Net.