If you're interested in a new adult fantasy series with a creative, detailed world, characters with complex motivations, and a plot with some real twists and turns, then Notorious Sorcerer, the debut novel from Davinia Evans releasing on 13 September 2022, might be just the thing for you!
From the publisher:
In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy. Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality. Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea. It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it. A dazzling fantasy bursting with wild magic, chaotic sword-fighting street gangs, brazen flirting, malevolent harpies, and one defiant alchemist.
In short, Notorious Sorcerer is a fantastic read.
The worldbuilding in this book is excellent. Bezim is a fascinating city filled with complicated social structures, people from all over the world, a history of political revolution and magical disaster, and the opportunity to fall into other planes of existence. The setting feels at times like a little bit of Pratchett's Discworld, Schwab's Londons of the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, and Chakraborty's Daevabad but definitely has a character all its own. As more of the world is revealed, it becomes clear that it is interconnected in deep and profound ways that most of its inhabitants don't understand.
The reader is thrown into the deep end from the outset and I spent the first 20 pages or so wishing I had a glossary and wondering if I'd missed a subtle explanation about some of the terms I was reading. The fine writing and attention to detail means that most of this understanding clears up quickly in context. I found the experience of being dropped into what felt like a living city to be like watching a flower bloom on a time lapse photo, slowly revealing its petals, or rather like visiting another country for the first time. I was a foreigner, learning the local customs and practices and having a great time doing it.
The characters in Notorious Sorcerer are a varied bunch, all with something to offer. Some of the characters are thoroughly unlikable, but that's their personalities and not Evans's writing. The point-of-view in the storytelling moves between four different characters over the story. This is used to good effect, giving us insight into the different characters' motivations, fears, ambitions, and hopes without derailing the overall plot. Several of the characters have motivations that are rather more complex and philosophical than I generally anticipate from fantasy novels and this was an enjoyable surprise.
The major arc of the plot begins slowly and I wondered at first if the book was going to move at a pace slower than I'd enjoy. What I soon realized was that instead of a truly slow pace, this was simply the roller coaster ticking up that initial climb. Once Notorious Sorcerer crested the hill and began its descent, I was treated to all manner of loops and whirls and a roaring ride through Bezim, other planes, social classes, family drama, romance, and magic.
I was delighted to read more than one LGBTQ+ character in the story. These are full characters with stories, agency, motivations, and lives all their own. They are not simply excuses to see "unconventional" couples kissing, but representation of full characters doing so much more than marking off a diversity checkbox. There's even a little bit of flirting with extraplanar beings, taking the possibilities of human sexuality in Bezim to places we on Earth can't venture!
I had a great time reading Notorious Sorcerer and would encourage anyone who's interested in a trip to a new world to pick it up and give it a read when it is released next month. Engaging characters, a beautiful world with a clever magic system, a great story with a satisfying conclusion and enough loose threads to leave you looking for the next one. This book's a winner for me!