Standalone fantasy is a bit of a rarity. So often, whether because of Tolkien or other influences, we end up with trilogies or epic sagas spanning four or more books. I’m a huge fan of big epic series, but it’s also nice to enjoy a self-contained story from time to time. The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda scratches that itch perfectly. With world building that includes unique and engaging elements as well as an incredibly fascinating magic system, Czerneda’s novel is sure to please fantasy fans looking for a standalone read.
Czerneda’s story is filled with amazingly unique world building elements. The magic system in this world involves mages paying life in order to create made-creations of various sorts that perform certain tasks or otherwise do their bidding. The story doesn’t hesitate to explore the impact this has on the world. Magic is expensive because doing it shortens the life of the mage. This also results in a number of very well-off, geriatric mages. It’s rare for fantasy to explore the implications of powerful magic-users as they begin to lose their memory, their physical abilities, or their restraint. Czerneda, on the other hand, does an excellent job of fleshing out the very real negative effects of aging on the mages themselves as well as on society as a whole. The magic was outstanding because it played such a role in the lives of the characters affected by it. Incredibly well done! The religious system and mythology of the world are also interesting and there’s actually a good bit crammed into this novel, though it never felt shoehorned in or like it was dumped on the reader. Each bit was well integrated and felt important to the story and world building necessary for the story to have the impact it did. As the plot ramps up after the initial introductions the stakes quickly become epic and Czerneda does a good job of keeping the tension high. Initially this is done through a number of questions and mysteries surrounding the goals of the antagonists, but this is all handled in fresh ways that kept me engaged throughout. I can’t say that this is a fast-paced novel, but it is very well paced and an enjoyable read that kept me reading and gave me that “just one more page” feeling. Part of this was helped along by the range of emotions the novel elicits. There were moments that made me smile, moments of joy but also moments of sadness and intense emotion. This emotional range made the story shine.
In terms of criticisms, my main complaint with this novel is that the chapters are incredibly long, but in the midst of these we change perspectives back and forth between characters often. We might have a page from one character’s perspective, only to jump to a different character - in the same geographical area - for a few pages before jumping back to the first character before moving on to a character in a different location. I was never confused about which perspective I was reading, but to change perspective so often was a little jarring before I got used to it. The story also has a bit of a mythological feel to it and I never felt connected to a particular character. In the end, this didn’t end up as a huge negative. It almost felt like the characters were more legends than individuals. It’s a different writing style that perhaps isn’t as common in modern fantasy, but I think it turned out well here.
I can’t say enough about the magic, religion, and the story itself. A fine standalone tale, I imagine The Gossamer Mage will be one I’ll return to often. A wonderful, hopeful fantasy, this is one you don’t want to miss.
Review by Calvin Park
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
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