Indentured Magic by James A Eggebeen
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reading copy of Indentured Magic by James Eggebeen and while I had been unfamiliar with the author’s previous work, the premise sparked my interest.
A disgraced sword master goes on a quest for redemption which finds her investigating a human trafficking ring that targets young girls with magic abilities. I had no idea what to expect, but what I read not only shocked me but kept me reading in to the early hours of the morning.
The Novel’s main protagonist is Medea, a young woman that has spent many years away from her family learning the art of sword craft from her uncle, a respected master. We learn that her younger sister Lana has been taking care of her sick mother all the while having to endure life with her physically and sexually abusive step-father.
As the Novel progresses, and Medea sets out to find out more about the depraved proprietor of the trafficking ring we are introduced to the young girls who have been stolen from their families, and forced out of their innocence by offering magic spells, or their bodies to paying customers in a brothel , and Medea’s story becomes intertwined with those of the victims as her mission takes a more personal turn.
This is a dark novel. It may be one of the darkest I’ve read. It’s not Grimdark in the sense that it has clear-cut protagonists, and its language is clean, but Eggebeen gets us inside the minds and souls of the abused in such an intense way that it is impossible not to become attached, as each woman has a different way of coping with their circumstances.
While magic plays a role in the novel, and Eggebeen’s description of the binding of magical talismans and the cinematic spell casting is beautifully rendered, the novel is really about the bigger picture, which is the horrendous manipulation of young women that are bought and sold as product, a cultural epidemic that takes place all over the world, even in suburban neighbourhoods.
In Eldach, the villain of the novel, Eggebeen has created a character so twisted, so shockingly evil, so depraved that his mere presence on the page causes chills. This is because unlike many fantasy antagonists steeped in “dark” tropes, he is a charming sociopath, that lures and manipulates his captives in to believing that they are his “First Girl”, and hence made to feel loved and special, all the while stripping them of their magic, for his own selfish greed, and leaving them destitute and ruined as a result as he moves on to a newer version. Anyone that knows anything about these horrendous crimes will be able to draw real-life parallels.
This is a mature novel. Its themes are not only complex and challenging, but often triggering. Prostitution, domestic abuse, suicide and torture play heavily in to the narrative and while Eggebeen does not rely on graphic shock value as much as some authors, his way of bringing the reader in to the chaos and claustrophobia of Eldach’s nightmare world is extremely effective. Often he uses similar scenarios with different characters to show us how they react to their environment in different ways.
While there is not a great deal of fast-paced action in the novel, which is far more psychological thriller than anything else, there are a few moments in which Madea gets to prove her worth as a Swordmaster, which are not only cathartic but wonderfully choreographed.
James Eggebeen has written an important novel. He has somehow crafted something poignant, with themes true to real life that will no doubt promote to an awareness for readers of a real-life issue, yet he has also created an amazing fantasy world with characters to root for that, should he continue to use them , would be able to shine in a completely different type of Fantasy adventure.
Warning: I love Grimdark and Dark Fantasy, but this novel may be triggering for some. Highly recommended but be prepared for some of it to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
This Indentured Magic book review was written by Michael Gruneir
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