Source: NetGalley – Many thanks to the publisher!
TL;DR: A complex and interesting setup that really needed much more room. Exhausting.
Plot: I wish some of this had been stretched out to a second book. There was simply too much here
Characters: Interesting characters in the moment, but little to no background is given to anyone ultimately making them feel very shallow.
Setting: The setting is truly what drives this. It’s alive, literally falling to pieces and our main character must try to fix it.
Magic: Vague at best. It’s ‘alchemy’ and maybe feelings?
Confused and intrigued are the best ways to describe starting in on Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans. The book throws the reader directly into the story with little or no explanation. It takes a lot to confuse me, I’ve been reading fantasy for nearly 30 years but this one tested me. The story follows a cast of characters, our primary one Siyon Velo is a lowborn man who is an alchemist in all but name. Those who practice Alchemy must follow a path to become ‘Alchemist’ in title, otherwise the practice of the art is illegal.
The setting of this is complex. The city of Bezim and people are divided up into ranks and tiers. Some bleed into others with cross over and others cannot be entered with rules being followed. Siyon is an example of this. Born in the docks and ‘slum’ areas of the city he is striving to become an Alchemist and rise in rank. The rest of the cast are those that he draws to him in various ways. Several women of the high society, a teacher of sorts with the rank in Alchemy, and a young man who wants the impossible.
If you’re looking for a complex, very politically stratified world – I’d maybe give this one a shot. But for me it was a bit much. To begin with it does not explain itself, almost ever. So the reader is left to puzzle through ranks – what does this word mean and why is the woman not quite that rank but going to be but also one of these? It seems, on reflection, that this was meant to make a statement about these sort of systems but little was ever shown of those outside those high ranks. We hear about the punishments some lower ranking people endured, but besides that there was little else.
That is on top of the multitude of plot lines in this book that, though they come together in the end, seem just to be a bit much. At 70% I thought I was done, everything reached a good natural ending but the book kept going, another quarter later and honestly I was exhausted by the need of the author to knit things together with every single line she’d created. For me the story of this one book could have worked and flowed so much better in two.
There was little to no catharsis within this book. For each good thing that happens, an equally if not more exhausting, terrible thing happens. The small moments of joy and happiness I felt for the characters were squashed by the threat of another or a force beyond their control. This one was not a winner for me. The bones were good but weighed down by the weight of too much everything else. 2.5 stars.