In the wake of a slaughter of wise scholars and the theft of a dangerous spell book of dark summoning magic, it falls to a young mage to pursue the truth and save the world from impending devastation. Farden is his name, and in spite of his youth he is already powerful, with a substantial reputation preceding him, but he is also deeply troubled by many things: the specters of his past, the forbidden desires of his heart, and a debilitating addiction to a dangerous substance. Can this man, powerful and weak in the same breath, uncover the conspiracy which pursues him even as he pursues it, stop the machinations of an ancient evil, save the world, and find his happiness?
The Written, by Ben Galley, is the first in the Emaneska series. Emaneska is a fantasy world, drawing some inspiration from Nordic legends and Greek myths. It features mages, murder, and mystery, love, loss, and liberation, mystical creatures and monsters, intrigue among nations, and so much more.
And it all falls very flat.
The best part, and the best-written part, is the prologue. It’s poetic, vivid, and starts the story off with a bang. Even so, it was easy to predict, even then, that this dark, mysterious figure was using the wise men and about to betray and kill them all.
From there, it went steadily downhill. The story felt contrived and predictable, the tension was boring, the world-building was mediocre, the characters were two-dimensional, and the language used to describe everything began to feel so rote that I found myself skimming to get to the end so I could move on to something else.
A “Written” is apparently a mage whose magic comes from the runes which are tattooed on his or her flesh. No one else is allowed to see it, because to see it, let alone touch it, can and will drive a person mad. Exactly how one can have sex – which, they do – without touching something that covers major portions of the body is never really addressed. Either way, the runes give them abilities based on which symbols they chose and how well they can use the power said runes grant them. And Farden is very powerful. …supposedly.
Honestly, I was very unimpressed with the magic, and with how it was used. Nothing was ever really explained, there were no particular limits set, yet the “powerful” Farden seemed pretty limited to me. And I don’t just mean when he chewed or smoked a drug that renders one unable to use magic for a time. I mean even when he was at full strength. He was pretty much just a swordsman with a few little magic tricks.
On which note, though he was apparently a one-man army and specialist, Farden kept needing to be rescued. Most often by a dragon who swooped in to save him several times. Said dragon took an immediate liking to Farden and they became close friends within a day.
I did want Farden to find happiness, of course, but between the lack of admirable qualities – outside her appearance – that I found in his love interest, and how primarily physical their relationship seemed to be, and a subtle indication that he may have also had sex a few times with his maid prior to being Written with magical tattoos… well, I never really felt it, ya know? The “big reveal” of his lover’s duplicity wasn’t even very shocking to me, though, I will admit, the part where she was very deliberately trying to have his child, to be raised up as a weapon of evil, did make my blood boil a little. But even that was not much.
And then there were all the “just because” moments. The moment when an evil sorcerer was sent by the main villain to kill Farden, but did so too soon, but too long after the villain had tricked Farden into smoking his drug, so he was able to use his magic again. And the moment where a bird is apparently some form of instant communication across a distance that took a ship a couple of weeks to travel but the bird apparently is able to get there instantaneously. And the moment when these wise, old mages died the service of their duty, after having apparently known something about the danger among them without ever doing anything about it. Seriously, there were so many plot holes that it was starting to look like Swiss cheese.
All in all, I would say that The Written had a good start, had a promising idea, had hopes for an interesting, international fantasy setting, and simply bungled a great deal in the execution.
If you like it, then, of course, more power to you – and, of course, at least Galley has actually published an entire series, unlike myself, so I must give him due props for actually doing what I have only dreamed of doing – but it still seemed like a bit of a hack job to me.
Rating: 4 stars out 10.