Pros: Fabulous worldbuilding and characters!
Cons: Some confusion; a few things didn’t quite add up
Rating: 4 out of 5
Julie E. Czerneda’s The Gossamer Mage is an absolutely beautiful dark fantasy tale. Tananen is the only place in the world where magic is real. Men touched by the Gift of the Deathless Goddess become mages, learning to write Her Words in order to bring intentions to life. Women touched by Her Gift become daughters, and help to keep the land and its inhabitants safe. When mages use their power, they sacrifice a portion of their lives, growing old and dying well before their time. When a mage’s intention isn’t pure, focused, or skilled enough, he creates Gossamrs–living magic with will and a mind of its own. Maleonarial is exceptionally gifted. He has 300 bells in his hair–one bell for each use of his power–and yet still lives, although barely. When a village is attacked by monsters, the locals blame Mal, who’s been living as a hermit–however, it should be impossible for his creations to harm and kill. Both the Hold Lord and Hold Daughter of Tiler’s Hold send representatives to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it.
The system of magic is truly interesting. The daughters are the only ones who can speak Her Words and live, but the mages are the only ones who can use intentions to create living magics. Those magics take the form of living things; so for example, magic can’t heal directly, but it might be used to create a plant which can be distilled into a healing potion. Elements such as the quality of the pen, ink, and parchment used can have varying effects on the magics. Since mages have to spend their youth and life to work magic, their magic is highly valued and compensated. But the inhabitants of Tananen are used to having nearly every aspect of their lives enriched by magic, so mages live fleeting lives. There did seem to be some inconsistency in how much of a mage’s life magic took. When the characters are throwing around magics later in the book, it seemed from the descriptions like each use took, if I had to guess, probably 1-3 years off of the mage’s life. Yet Mal started out with 300 bells, so obviously that can’t be true, even if he did have an unusual number. There was another mage depicted who was absolutely mired in the results of his magics, so again, a year or two for each use couldn’t possibly be the case. If the aging effects had just been subtler at the end the whole shebang would have made perfect sense. It also would have made the extravagant uses of magic more believable. Especially when mages apparently use magic so ubiquitously that even “no mage scribe used sparks to start fire.”
I really love the characters. Kait, one of the daughters, is a back-woods woman transplanted to a city hold as a potential successor to the Hold Daughter. She’s out of her element, but seems to have an unusual gift to detect certain types of evil–a gift that’s going to be needed! She’s concerned, however, because she no longer hears the Lady’s Voice in her mind. (I would have liked a little more information about what that was like before it vanished. I never got a handle on, say, whether it was a two-way or one-way communication, or what sorts of things the Lady talked about.) Mal is also a great character. He’s determined to find a way to destroy the Lady so that she’ll stop draining the lives of mages, even if it means no more magic in the world. He has interesting history with many of the incidental (and not-so-incidental) characters, and he has a whole lot of depth. There are plenty of intriguing, enjoyable characters to accompany the reader on her journey.
I found the narrative a little confusing at times. Some of the geographic description was hard to get a handle on. And there was just something about the wording in places that forced me to read sentences twice in order to figure out what exactly was going on–a kind of awkward wording here and there.
I really enjoyed this book, and I think almost any fantasy fan would. It does get a bit dark and bloody in places, so just be aware.