Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Spell of the Black Dagger

One of the things I enjoy about Lawrence Watt-Evans’s Ethshar novels is that the main characters are so ordinary. On the rare occasions that they have inherent magic, it tends to be either so basic it’s not of much help, or it has such a significant flaw it becomes a problem in and of itself.

In The Spell of the Black Dagger, Lady Sarai, the Minister of Investigations of Ethshar of the Sands, is one of those people who lack any talent in magic. Desperate low-life Tabaea the Thief is another. And although they start out worlds apart in every way, their paths cross in a clash that will involve every kind of magic… and shake the city to its foundations.

It all begins when Tabaea sneaks into a wizard’s house and spies on him as he teaches his apprentice how to make an athame, the magical dagger which every wizard carries. Tabaea gets the bright idea of listening in on the entire process and making her own athame. Being a wizard (albeit one lacking Guild authorization) has got to be easier than stealing for a living.

Except she gets something wrong. The dagger turns black, and doesn’t give her any magic powers of her own, much to her despair.

What it does do, though, is something she discovers much later. When she kills someone with it, she gains their power — whether that person is a wizard or a warlock (capable of flight and telekinesis) or a witch (able to sense when someone is lying).

Watt-Evans’s characters never behave as though they’ve read the script, so Tabaea kills a theurgist and a demonologist as well, to see if she gains their specialized knowledge. That doesn’t work, but the string of unusual murders catches Lady Sarai’s attention, and as the Minister of Investigations, she sets out to find the killer. Meanwhile, the Wizards’ Guild is after Tabaea as well, to avenge the wizard she murdered.

That’s when they find out the Black Dagger negates any spells cast at her. Oh, and each time she kills someone she gains that person’s life, meaning a sword-thrust to the heart will stop her in her tracks for a moment or two until she recovers and strikes back — with more power than any wizard has ever had. What happens when her newfound power goes to her head, how the magicians of Ethshar join forces to stop her and what Lady Sarai does to reach her first… well, better not spoil it for anyone.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly and would recommend it to any readers in the mood for great worldbuilding, realistic characters and a solid story. Watt-Evans’s The Unwelcome Warlock is on my list of books to buy as well, and I’ll be sure to review that when the time comes.


Randall said...

This was the book where Watt-Evans' Ethshar started coming apart for me. I had a lot more sympathy for the thief than anyone else in the book; I felt that she was the best-written character in the entire book and, frankly, I wanted her to win.

In the end, I think there's about one Ethshar book I'd bother to re-read (Ithanalin's Restoration), a bunch more I disliked to various degrees, and more yet that I can't be arsed to read because I know they're going to suck.

Marian Perera said...

I liked her up until the point where she started killing people... especially since she started out by cutting the throat of a sleeping seventeen-year-old. After that it became much more difficult to sympathize with her.

Ithanalin's Restoration is in my collection too. At first the premise didn't appeal to me too much - mostly because there was so much furniture to find - but I like how Kilisha shapes up over the course of the story.

Anonymous said...
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Randall said...

You're getting comment spam, Marian.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, I need to do something about that. *eyes spammers balefully*