A Dazzling Dynamite Debut: Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

Posted 10th September 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Notorious Sorcerer (The Burnished City #1) by Davinia Evans
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi/pansexual MC, M/M, queernorm world
PoV: 3rd person, past-tense, multiple PoVs
Published on: 13th September 2022
ISBN: B09Q31T82G
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.

But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.

Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~phoenix-feathers and angel fire
~tribes of delightfully performative trouble-makers
~meet-cute? try meet-snark
~what’s the difference between alchemy and sorcery?
~time to hit the rooftops

Oh, Notorious Sorcerer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

Picture a city by a sea. Now split it in half, just like the Sundering did. Make it rich and make it poor. Give it fisher-clans that work together or die alone; give it Flower Houses whose occupants laugh at little things like curfews while they play cards for fortunes. Give it a Harbormaster and a Prefect and inquisitors in grey, give it noble azatani with their calling cards and turbans, give it tribes of playful warrior bravi who rule the rooftops and go to war to entertain their city.

Now make it the only place in the world where alchemy works.

This is our setting, Bezim, and it’s wonderful and beautiful, but far from perfect. Especially when it comes to alchemy – what the rest of us would call magic – which is pretty much exclusively the domain of the wealthy and influential. Alchemy is complicated to learn, expensive to practice, and viewed with suspicion by the authorities – so if you don’t have access to a teacher and their library, all the necessary ingredients and tools, and the protection of an upper-class family?

Well, good luck with that.

Despite this, becoming an alchemist is exactly what our main character, Siyon, desperately wants. And to be honest, it’s quite a shock to learn that he isn’t one, because the incredible opening scene sees him entering another plane of existence to gather alchemical ingredients (which all come from one of the other planes, rather than the Mundane, aka the realm of humanity) in what is one of the most exciting, gorgeous, and illuminating story openers I have read in a long time.

And the Empyreal itself – the plane he visits? Is both beautifully described and brilliantly envisioned – a desert where the sand isn’t sand and angels do not look kindly on visitors. I loved every second we saw of it, and how Evans used metaphors and simile to get across the inherent nature of the plane!

Not actually sand, not here. Tiny grains of duty, or conscience, or something equally uncomfortable and insistent.

It’s thrilling and badass and honestly wondrous, so to discover after all that that Siyon isn’t an alchemist – is in fact held in contempt by ‘proper’ alchemists, considered a procurer of ingredients and nothing more – is pretty mind-boggling.

Which is to say, Evans wastes no time in establishing that a) Siyon is awesome, and b) the system is messed up.

The sound of an angel’s wings, scything through excuses.

Of course, things start changing pretty rapidly when Siyon sets off a domino chain of disasters and miracles by accomplishing the impossible – completely by accident.

Notorious Sorcerer moves, for the most part, like a bravi running the rooftops; I wouldn’t call it frenetic, but the story never has a dull page – even if we do get breathing room for small but poignant human moments throughout. There’s a great deal going on, but it never feels like too much, or like Evans has lost control of all the balls she has in the air; instead the interlocking plotlines all feel very organic, like natural extensions of each other, which is especially wonderful because the various storylines cross and recross Bezim’s class lines – which helps us understand and perceive the city as a whole, single organism. The characters themselves see Bezim as divided – and it is – but by the very nature of the different plotlines and how they intersect, Evans shows us how divided doesn’t actually mean separate, much as some of the characters might wish it did!

They’re all in this together, whether they like it or not.

He was right. He was wrong. That was different.

So it’s lucky we have an incredible cast; Siyon, who is in love with magic and has a hunger for more; Zagiri, a noble-born young woman who is not, in fact, ‘playing’ at being bravi; Zagiri’s older sister Anahid, stuck in a frustrating marriage and struggling to define herself; and Izmirlian, who dreams.

Siyon grinned, or at least he bared his teeth. “Sure. I’m the best practitioner you’ve never heard of. I make angels dance and harpies weep. I make the others look staid, boring, uninspired.” He leaned forward; it was a feral relief to vent a little bile. “I could make all your wildest dreams come true.”

The azatan tilted his head in a careful and practised gesture, but there was a glint in his eye. Like the spark of light off a drawn sabre, like the thrill of leaping from one gutter to the next, like the flash of nothing between the planes. “You don’t know what I dream about.”

They’re each so perfectly distinct, and they play off and with each other so well. The relationships in this book – between the four PoV characters, and between them and the marvellous secondary cast – are fantastic, and best of all they evolve over the course of the book, even as they’re all built on different but solid foundations; the comradery of the bravi, blood-family and found-family, friendship and sisterhood, shared backgrounds, shared class, shared dreams.

“Boy, why jump through their hoops when you just leapt over the moon?”

And just as the interlacing of the different plotlines reinforces that everyone is part of the same story, mixing characters from different social classes does a really excellent job of critiquing the class system. We’re never lectured about it, but it’s impossible to miss who has privilege and who doesn’t, and how that affects the characters on a personal and plot level. Siyon, as the only non-noble in the main cast, is forever aware of the fact that the wealthy are playing by a different set of rules, and one of the things I loved about him was how he never forgets how freaking lucky he is when good things start happening, how he always remembers that the people he knows – other would-be alchemists, other non-nobles – aren’t getting the same chances he is. I was pleased that Zagiri woke up to her own privilege so quickly, and delighted when she started to use it to help those who needed help.

Izmirlian gets it too, but I already loved him for dreaming such strange, incredible dreams.

He didn’t spend much time berating himself for past mistakes. He’d made too many; no one had that much time.

There’s absolutely nothing I don’t adore about this book. The setting feels so real and so different from anything I’ve come across before; the worldbuilding delights me right down to the tiniest detail (colour-coded cafe umbrellas!); the magic system is exquisitely intricate and full of secrets and mysteries; the prose is so rich and lush and gorgeous that I want to eat it; and all of it together is so gloriously indulgent. It feels like the best kind of wish fulfilment even while it manages to twist and turn and surprise you, somehow managing to capture the warm glow of a much cosier, lower-stakes story despite being neither cosy nor low-stakes in the slightest; it fills you with glee and giggles one moment and then has you gasping the next. It’s absolutely flawless.

I need so much more of these characters and their world and their magic, okay. I’m so grateful this is just the start of a series!

Notorious Sorcerer is thrilling and exciting, unpredictable, and completely irresistible from the very first page to the very last. This isn’t a book you read; it’s a book you fall in love with, and undoubtedly one of the best of 2022.

Don’t miss it!

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