NOTORIOUS SORCERER by Davinia Evans (BOOK REVIEW)
“Above all else, Bezim loved a spectacle. See it in the vigorous and vibrant trade of the Flowerhouses, in the regular processions out to the hippodrome, in the theatres scattered across the city both high and low, in the race and challenge and following of the bravi tribes. The square sizzled around them, a stirred-up cauldron of steaming excitement.”
Darlings, welcome to Bezim, where bravi tribes run rooftops sword-fighting and warring amongst each other in a bid to prove who rules the streets, where elite azantani live in luxury and their alchemists revel in magic by delving into the four planes of reality. But this magic does not come without its risks, for the planes themselves have become unbalanced and Bezim is feeling the unsettling effects. Alchemy has therefore become outlawed for all but the nobility, lest delving too far cause another Sundering.
Meet Siyon, a young man who left the Dockside and his fisherclan family for a better life. Though Siyon is not azantani, therefore with very little options open to him, he joins the Little Bracken bravi tribe which becomes his home, his people. That doesn’t quell his thirst for knowledge though, his desire for a grasp at powers that the alchemists wield, a chance at a life more worthwhile; and so, for now, he earns a living being sent on errands into the four planes by those alchemist’s above him, in the hopes of earning enough coin to provide tutelage in the Art. However, when Zagiri Savani, Siyon’s new assistant and bravi member, is in peril, Siyon performs an impossible act of sorcery, astonishing all those in view. Unfortunately, at the same time the planes start lurching out of alignment and Bezim threatens to be completely destroyed. What is needed now is another act of impossible magic.
Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans is a debut which sweeps you away on a journey of wild and wonderous illicit magic, sword fighting bravi tribes, and a reluctant hero’s quest to save his home.
The beginning of Notorious Sorcerer is extremely light in tone, with much humour and jest injected throughout. Evan’s prose instantly captivated me with witty banter, her scenes of foolish shenanigans and peril were enticing. We are thrown into a fast paced narrative which sees Siyon making many blunders, although it takes some time to fully comprehend all that is unfolding, this puzzlement was part of my enjoyment. Not to mention that Siyon always acted first and thought afterwards! Pursued constantly by inquisitors who condemn those who use illicit alchemy, his arc consists of near escapes, of finding sanctuaries without bringing danger to his bravi tribe’s door nor to others who have helped him. Yet Siyon’s desire for using alchemy never wanes, his pride takes over and his need to prove his worth consistently overrules his sensibilities. At every given turn he is warned of his uneducated and flippant use of alchemy, of the dangers of unbalancing the planes, yet Siyon quite blatantly carries on regardless. This made his character comical, at times frustrating for sure, but in a way Siyon is justified. Why should alchemy only be accessed by the rich and privileged?
‘Siyon grinned, or at least he bared his teeth. “Sure. I’m the best practitioner you’ve never heard of. I make angels dance and harpies weep. I make the others look staid, boring, uninspired.” He leaned forward; it was a feral relief to vent a little bile. “I could make all your wildest dreams come true.”’
The theme of class divisions is one that is explored in great detail as it is significant in Bezim’s society. Education could only be accessed by the rich, or by the people who held the right names – the azantani. Wealth brought a whole host of privileges; nobles could be dismissed or use bribery to avoid punishment for crimes and public uses of alchemy, whereas the poorer classes or foreigners would be condemned with the harshest of consequences. The rich were given a host of opportunities and doors opened widely, whereas the rest were left to survive by any means necessary.
Through Zagiri and her sister Anahid’s characters, Evans also shows that life for the upper class was not always easy either. Within aristocratic society there were certain expectations for women, restrictions and propriety to uphold. Zagiri struggles between her family’s requirement for her to present herself at social events and her desire to be part of the Little Bracken bravi, and Anahid suffers in a loveless marriage with very little freedom of her own. As the novel progresses the light hearted tone takes a darker turn as the azantani begin being persecuted and killed by the inquisitors and also the Prefect for any use of alchemy. Their status no longer shelters them, their businesses begin closing, and they are forced into hiding. Evans brings a fantastic layer of depth to her novel. In a heavily policed state, how far is too far? She poses the conflict of having a world with dangerous, potentially world-ending alchemy, but having such tight restrictions against its use is detrimental to fixing the problem too.
“Tonight, Siyon’s cellmates were an ever-changing parade of well-dressed practitioners bleating about their family standing and how this couldn’t be done to them. One by one they were free to go.
Not Siyon, of course.”
This I believe is the sheer beauty of Notorious Sorcerer, Evans creates so many layers to her worldbuilding and magic system. When Siyon meets handsome Izmirlian Hisarani (who instantly catches his eye!), he is shown a whole different side to Bezim. Hisarani is a man who revels in deeper thinking, who displays an affinity to the arts, particularly operas which are a significant factor in Bezim’s culture. As Siyon’s attraction to Hisarani grows so does his influence and Siyon begins to think of his abilities with alchemy in an entirely new way. This was exciting to see unfold as we discover so much more about the four planes, Empyreal, Abyssal, Aethreal and our plane, the Mundane. I honestly would have liked each plane to have been explored in more detail with perhaps more scenes set within each one, because one of my favourite chapters sees Siyon fall into The Abyssal plane and meet a certain murderous Harpy! From then on we are driven to a high-octane, thrilling ending.
Notorious Sorcerer is a fresh epic fantasy full of astounding alchemy, charming characters and chaotic shenanigans aplenty. Evans weaves a delightfully fun hero’s quest set against the backdrop of class division and privilege.
ARC provided by Nazia at Orbit Books UK. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Notorious Sorcerer is out 15th September but you can preorder a copy HERE