The reviews found here are my personal opinions, not meant to hurt or detract from others. The act of writing a books is monumental, as anyone who has tried it knows. Having a book published, no matter if it is first for fortieth, is a feat to be celebrated. In this sense, the quality of the book does not matter. The authors who have written and published them (either through publishing houses or self) have bared their souls to the rest of us and I have no desire to hurt them, or people who enjoy their books. These reviews are so that people who have interest in a book, but are not sure if it is for them, can get a better idea. I will try my best not to include major spoilers, but I will include mentions of content that I find problematic, as well as content that shines.
The Gossamer Mage, by Julie E. Czerneda is, ostensibly, about magic that is made by writing. But it is also a book about sacrifice. In this story, Scribe Mages make their magic by writing in the language of the Deathless Goddess and give up part of their lifespan for it to come to fruition (rather, part of their lifespan is stolen and they are happy to have it so). There is an evil that threatens the magic, the Goddess, and the whole land of which they are part.
Before I get to the bulk of my review, I’d like to talk about the first chapter. I have to admit, I almost stopped reading multiple times during this 70-page chapter. There are quite a few hurdles to getting into this book: the language (which smooths as you get further into the book), the choppy nature of the first chapter (lots of head-jumping here and throughout), and Cil. I have a problem with villainizing marginalized groups, and Cil falls into that category. He is the only autistic-coded character in this book. I don’t feel like I have enough experience or knowledge to talk in depth on the subject, but this is a problem that has existed in all sorts of fiction probably for as long as stories have been told and I am disappointed to see the problem continue. Yes, anyone can be a villain. But not at the expense of real people who could be (and probably are) harmed by negative portrayal and stereotypes.
The book starts with a smattering of characters, the only one of whom encouraged my reading was the bald mage Sael. I enjoyed that we got to see his fear, his kindness, his worry, and his humanity. I enjoyed his distaste for a wig, and that he was looking out for one of his students, and that the people around him clearly cared about him and liked him.
I was disappointed that there were no women characters in the first chapter (again, it was SEVENTY PAGES), but when Kait appeared in chapter two, I was satisfied. At first I thought she was another young woman character, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize she was at least well into adulthood. She was kind to those around her, hardworking, and determined to defeat the evil threatening her homeland. While her resolution did not hit quite right, I can see that it was foreshadowed at least once early on.
My other favorite character comes late in the book. His name is Page and he is a mage. What I liked most about him was that he was not what anyone had expected. I don’t want to say too much about him, since if I do it will give away spoilers, but my favorite moment with him is when he is debating with his friend Mal (one of the main POV characters) and they keep citing sources to back up their arguments. It just felt particularly down-to-earth.
Other notable characters include Pylor (who I wish had a more important role than to be constantly afraid), Leksand (who felt a bit flat until the second to last chapter, and then flat again in the last), and Mal (a mage determined to end the cycle of life being traded for magic). I was disappointed that the title of the book was actually a title applied to more than one character by the end. If it was that important, at least one of those characters should have had a bigger role in the story.
All of the characters seemed very similar to me, which was disappointing. I like reading about characters who have different perspectives, and everyone here seemed to have one of two perspectives. In addition, I don’t really feel like the characters fit in the story, but rather seemed to be afterthoughts to the plot.
Which brings me to:
Okay. So there’s an evil that everyone has forgotten about but has been around pretty much forever. It’s a common fantasy plot, right? Nothing wrong with it. Except, with such a simple plot, I’d have hoped for more unique characters. What do they always say in the cooking shows? If you’re going to play it safe, you have to be perfect.
I will say, the ending surprised me and I’m still trying to figure out if I missed foreshadowing due to stylistic strangeness (I’ll get to that in a bit), but the last 20 pages of chapter five felt like a rushed sequel that was tacked in. And the last chapter could have been longer. For a book with only six chapters, giving the denouement less than ten pages feels unimpressive. Especially when it brings a character back to life sort of. It would have been just as well not to kill that character off, or have magic bring them back more immediately, and then include some of that “I’ve just been brought back to life” shock in that final chapter.
Conversation and Dialogue
It seems like there was very little dialogue throughout the book. Towards the beginning of the book, many characters’ dialogue was written with lots of apostrophes and dropped words or letters to show their accent. This is personal preference, but I really disliked that. Other than that, the dialogue blended pretty much into the regular prose, so I don’t really have positives or negatives to say about it, just that everything seemed to be written in the same voice, which isn’t really a huge problem for me.
I really like the world that this story takes place in, and to be honest I’d love to explore the rest of the world beyond the small one nation. That being said, the info dumps at the beginning were overwhelming, especially because of the stylistic strangeness.
I wish the book would have started with the intrigue with the Hold Daughter and Kait, because, strangely, the fantasy politics were fascinating. Having multiple groups working together and balancing each other to govern was a refreshing change from the infighting and typical coups in many fantasy novels. The political system itself seemed well-developed and I wish we would have seen more of it.
I also really liked how Czerneda left some of the worldbuilding ambiguous. The characters only have their suppositions, and I like that that’s what we got to, rather than a definitive “this is how it is.” I think that takes a lot of skill to do.
I tend to like lots of description, but the first chapter was a lot even for me. And in the first chapter, what was really strange was certain words seemed to be omitted and a lot of sentences seemed jumbled and unclear. In other books, this would have been enough to make me stop reading. But this is a book about, at least in part, the magic of words. And I think the jumble served an important purpose to the story. Like I mentioned earlier, the style definitely smoothed out as the story progressed. And you know what was integral to the magic of the Mage Scribes? Putting the Goddess’s words in the right order to make the magic. I have to believe that this was Czerneda’s intent: to start out with everything sort of jumbled and confusing, only to have it all come together and create a smooth narrative by the end. And that worked. It was still a hard read for the first third of the book, but I am glad that I stuck with it.
I encourage anyone who is looking for something a little bit different, and a little bit challenging, to give this book a try, though only you can judge if it is right for you.