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Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery over HERE.

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Curtis Craddock was born in the wrong century and quite possibly on the wrong planet. He should have been born in a world where gallant heroes regularly vanquish dire and despicable foes, where friendship, romance, wit, and courage are the foundations of culture and civilization, and where adventure beckons from every shadow.

Instead, he was born on Earth and lives in a world bounded by bureaucracy, hemmed in by cynicism, and governed by the dull necessity of earning a wage. An exile in this world, he is a biographer of friends he's never met, a chronicler of events that never happened, and a cartographer of places that never were.

Given that the mundane world supplies a dearth of oddly progressive kingdoms to be saved, he spends his time saving cats, dogs, and the occasional bird of prey. By day, he teaches Computer Information Systems classes to offenders at a correctional facility. By night, he puts on his writer's cap, the broad-brimmed one with a feather, and, into the prison walls of reality, etches defiant words of legend.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Isabelle des Zephyrs has always been underestimated throughout her life, but after discovering the well of hidden magic within her, unveiling a centuries-long conspiracy, and stopping a war between rival nations, she has gained a newfound respect amongst the cutthroat court.

All that is quickly taken away when Isabelle is unfairly convicted of breaking the treaty she helped write and has her political rank and status taken away. Now bereft, she nevertheless finds herself drawn into mystery when her faithful musketeer Jean-Claude uncovers a series of gruesome murders by someone calling themselves the Harvest King.

As panic swells, the capital descends into chaos, when the emperor is usurped from the throne by a rival noble. Betrayed by their allies and hunted by assassins, Isabelle and Jean-Claude alone must thwart the coup, but not before it changes l'Empire forever.

CLASSIFICATION: Steampunk / Gaslamp Fantasy with Flintlock elements.

FORMAT: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery was published by Tor in January 2019 as a second book in  The Risen Kingdom series. It'a available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 416 pages and is divided into 26 numbered chapters. The cover art was done by Thom Tenery. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was one of my top books of 2017. It impressed me with its clever plot, relatable characters, steampunk aesthetics and unique world-building. After finishing the book I promised myself to follow the series, and so I was beyond excited to read the sequel, Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery

I’m happy to say it surpasses expectations. While I enjoyed Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors just a touch more, Craddock’s got the job done properly and once again crafted a wonderfully intricate story with likeable characters, and a plot that demands and rewards attention. 

Expect a courtly intrigue, lots of magic, romance, and adventure. Isabelle des Zephyrs unveiled centuries-long conspiracy, stopped a war and gained respect amongst the cutthroat court. As happiness and fortune don’t create suspense the way troubles do, Isabelle soon finds herself unfairly convicted and stripped of her rank. In the meantime, her faithful musketeer and bodyguard Jean-Claude uncovers a series of gruesome murders by someone calling themselves the Harvest King. 

Craddock took care to develop both the world and characters. 

Isabelle grows significantly as she tries to figure out her place in society, and how she feels about the events and people who interact with her. I always liked her cold logic and honesty, but now I appreciate them even more. It’s a rare pleasure to observe brilliant minds at work and I think the author has captured her sharp intelligence well. 

Despite her brilliance, Isabelle has little life experience and her arc has a strong coming-of-age vibe. Especially when she meets a dashing Captain Bitterlich, a shape-shifting Seelenjäger with great manners, a proper sense of humor and great looks. For me, the most exciting parts of the story focused on Isabelle trying to understand her mysterious l’Etincelle sorcery. I love the concept of a maimed heroine with sorcerous limb - an arm-shaped volume filled with luminescent pink and purple clouds and sparks. It turns out this gift has most surprising applications. 

Isabelle‘s closest friends, Jean-Claude and Marie, get plenty of screen time and I deeply enjoyed their arcs. Jean-Claudeused to be a dashing musketeer with an adventurous past. Because time spares no one, he turned stout, near-sighted and generally grumpy. His body betrays him more and more. Luckily he didn’t lose his wit, and he somehow remains arrogant, impetuous and whimsy. He combines character traits of D’Artagnan and Portos, an unexpected combination but it works and entertains. Jean-Claude proves once again his loyalty to Grand Leon and Isabelle as he deals with gruesome murders and an infection that strips saintborns of their magic. He also takes an apprentice, but I can’t tell you anything more about this. 

As for Marie, she’s tough, efficient and dangerous. We never know what exactly happens in her head, but I do love her character and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her. New characters, especially Captain Bitterlich, feel fully realized and well rounded.

In A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery, Craddock expands the world, its history, customs and geography. While I usually dislike detailed world-building, I found myself immersed and intrigued by his creation and I wouldn’t mind learning even more about it. As readers we learn more about various forms of magic like bestial shape-shifting abilities of Seelenjäger, or Goldentongue sorcery - the ability to craft illusions so convincing that they could even upend nature for a time. A great, imaginative stuff folks. 

I find the story and the tone of A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery darker than what we experienced in An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors. At times, violence is graphic and the themes (experimentation on living humans, fratricide) heavy. And yet Craddock finds a way to torture his characters without torturing readers. 

CONCLUSION: The ending opens many possibilities for future exploration of the world and Isabelle’s place in it, and I want to participate in this journey. Well done, Monsieur Craddock. Well done. 

A short side note: normally I would devour this book in a day or two, but as I had a free audible credit I decided to try immersion reading (reading an eBook and listening to companion audiobook at the same time). I still prefer reading books to listening them, but I must say Erin Bennett's narration is spectacular. Highly recommended.



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