Friday Reads, Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

The seaport of Bezim is the only place in the world of Notorious Sorcerer, where alchemy actually work., The other three planes of existence, which correspond to the other three alchemical elements Air (Aethyr), Fire (Empyreal), and Water (Aby), can be reached from there. Alchemists work their wonders, in industry, medicine, or purely for science, by mixing elements harvested from the other planes by petty alchemists like Siyon Velo. It’s a chancy business, but he’s already a risk taker, a member of a swashbuckling street gang (bravi), one of several gangs, who fight (only three quarters seriously), dual, run across rooftops (yes, really), mock attack parties, and are paid to protect parties. Neither alchemists nor bravi are strictly legal, but as long as no one splits the city in half, everyone gets along. Because once alchemy was taught at University, was respected, until a great working went terribly, horribly wrong, and the city was split, one side down by the harbor, the lower city where the docks and industry are, and part lifted up, where the Flower District, the Commercial District, the University, and the Avenues, (where the Avatani live.)

So. Of course, it all goes fine, until one of Siyon’s fellow bravi, Zagiri, gets caught in a youthful bit of foolishness gone disastrously wrong, and Siyon catches her from a deadly fall, not with alchemy, but, with, well, he doesn’t know how he did it. What he did do was upset an already perilously balanced peace. And the chase is off– over roofs, through allies, slowing down now and again, ending at her sister’s house. Anahid and her husband, who is an alchemist and member of the Summer Club, a registered alchemist. The story just gets more complicated from there. Alchemists try to put right what’s gone wrong, Siyon tries to prove himself as an alchemist, so many things go wrong, and many things go right. I can’t tell you how it all works out, there just isn’t space!

The point of view runs from Siyon Velo, petty alchemist; young Zagiri Savania fellow Little Bracken bravi, and 18 year old female member of the avatani (both a people and a highborn caste), Anahid Joddani, Zagiri’s older sister, who has walked through the traditional paths to adulthood, and regrets it; and Izmirlian Hisarani he’s gone on voyages of discovery, and brought back wondrous things, but he has no interest in trade, and now he wants to go further, which is why he needs an alchemist. All of them are trying to find their way through different paths to get to what they want. All of them grow through the experiences.

This is complex world building, combining politics, a fairly ordered magic system, and set caste system, and very well done characters, all thrown into a very precarious situation. No one really knows what to do to set the magical balance right. The policing arm of the government is heavily patrolling the streets and arresting all practitioners. And the characters are all second-guessing themselves.

Notorious Sorcerer, by Davinia Evans, The Burnished City, book 1, Orbit , subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, 2022, 978-0-316-39803-9.  The sequel, Shadow Baron, The Burnished City, Book 2, is due out November 14, 2023.  Sigh.

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