Siyon was only trying to save his friend, not destroy the city. Sure, Zagiri is more of an acquaintance, but she is more reliable than most foppish nobles who moonlight as streetwise soldiers for hire in the city of Bezim. A petty alchemist, Siyon spends his time in the shadows, harvesting materials from other planes of reality for richer and more powerful practitioners. But when Zagiri falls off a clock tower to what should have been her death, Siyon somehow manages to catch her in a feat of very illegal, should-be-impossible magic. It doesn’t matter that Siyon has no idea how he did it, because the most important rule about life in Bezim is that magic must never be done. Alchemy is science, but magic is instinctual and unexplainable, and it destroyed half the city centuries before. So when magic rears its incontrovertible head, it looks like Bezim itself could be in danger, and the authorities set their sights on Siyon.
Notorious Sorcerer, Davinia Evans’ debut novel, deploys genre tropes with delirious glee: Scientifically codified magic, supernatural bargains and zealous inquisitors all make appearances. The story flits from dirty streets to alchemical salons to private opera boxes at a heedless pace, driven by existential stakes but infused with an unshakable confidence that humanity will prevail. There are tragedies, of course, and hard lessons about loss and resilience and the kinds of violence those with power unconsciously inflict on those without. But there is also a romance or two, and while this is not the sort of book where the heroes ride off into the sunset, following Siyon and Zagiri on their quest to save their comrades and, eventually, their world is still good escapist fun.
While its narrow focus makes Notorious Sorcerer a tight, cleanly crafted read, it occasionally deprives Evans’ rich, fascinating world of oxygen; many tantalizing details are left by the wayside in favor of maintaining tension in Siyon’s journey. There is certainly room for this saga to grow, for secondary characters to take center stage, for readers to learn why one rogue is called the Diviner Prince or how the prefect came to power or why the chief inquisitor is so zealous. You”ll finish Notorious Sorcerer ready and eager for the promised sequel.