I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series – see my reviews of Spellslinger and Shadowblack – so I was a bit startled on learning that not only had Charmcaster been out for a while, but Soulbinder had also just been released. This is a series I didn’t want to slide away from me, so I got hold of Charmcaster with a view of taking it away on my writing retreat…
‘I was getting almost as good at running away from enemies as I was at making them in the first place. Turns out, I wasn’t running nearly fast enough.’ Kellen has begun to master his spellslinging and the Argosi tricks for staying alive, and he and Reichis have found a career that suits them both: taking down mercenary mages who make people’s lives miserable. But Ferius is concerned that Kellen is courting disaster . . .
Firstly, I want to congratulate Hot Key Books for keeping the blurb suitably concise – it’s such a refreshing change not to have to tweak/shorten it to avoid spoiling the book for prospective readers.
Next, my firm recommendation is to those of you who may have picked up this one without reading the other two books first – don’t go any further. Get hold of the previous two in the series. While I’m sure you could get the gist of what’s going on, this delightful, quirky fantasy adventure is far too good to miss.
As for Kellen, his squirrel cat companion Reichis, and Ferius, his Argosi mentor – they are once more on the track of the scumbags who have been inserting a parasitic worm into youngsters in order to control them. What I really have enjoyed about this series is that while Kellen is undoubtedly brave, he is regularly outmatched. And he does have a habit of rushing to the rescue of those he sees as innocent victims without necessarily working out whether his chances of prevailing are realistic. It doesn’t help that his squirrel cat is constantly goading him to take on any assailant in the hopes that he’ll be able to snack on another juicy eyeball… The humour in this series works as a nice counterpoint to the emotion also evident – Kellen wears his heart on his sleeve and the stakes are invariably as high as they can get, given he is tangling with some seriously unpleasant people. In other hands, this series could have been a constant, gritted struggle for survival – which is exactly what happens, but de Castell ensures the pacey writing and horrible situations Kellen finds himself in are leavened by the humour, mostly provided by the squirrel cat and his edgy relationship with his human companion.
I also very much appreciated the further insights into Ferius, Kellen’s mysterious mentor, and what drives her as I’ve found her cryptic utterances somewhat annoying. But this is the book where I bonded with her, while holding my breath. This author isn’t afraid to kill off major characters when it suits him.
Overall, this was an engaging read and worth addition to what is becoming a cracking series and highly recommended for fans of fantasy adventures.