Book Review : Notorious Sorcerer

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

Book Review : Notorious SorcererNotorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
Published by Orbit on September 13th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Dragons & Mythical Creatures, Urban, Humorous
Pages: 448
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Source: NetGalley, Orbit Books

In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy. 
Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality.
Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea.
It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it.
A dazzling fantasy bursting with wild magic, chaotic sword-fighting street gangs, brazen flirting, malevolent harpies, and one defiant alchemist.

Notorious Sorcerer is a debut fantasy novel written by Davinia Evans. This novel follows a cast of characters in a city called Bezim. What makes this novel totally unique is this setting, a half-submerged city, which was practically destroyed by a previous sundering of the planes of reality. Since that day, Inquisitors have strictly patrolled the streets of the town, policing the use of alchemy, which they blamed for the collapse of the planes.


Naturally our protagonist is a self taught alchemist (more accurately, a wannabe or slap-dash alchemist), named Siyon Velo, who starts the novel with a bang by jumping amongst the planes, with only a tether to keep him tied to his current plane. In this other plane, Siyon is almost immediately attacked by (thankfully not biblically accurate) angels, but manages to bring back those priceless materials used for alchemy. But before too long, Siyon gets caught up in way more than a little alchemy dabbling, and will have to use all of his wits in order to save not only his own skin, but all of the planes themselves.


“‘Don’t worry.’ Siyon grinned, the thrill of what he was about to do starting to tug at him as surely as a tether. It never got old. ‘I’ll be right here. Well. Right here, and on the other side of reality at the same time.'”


Notorious Sorcerer excels at creating a unique world and magical system of alchemy. But I found myself often confused at the nitty-gritty details. This is not the type of fantasy novel where every last detail of the world, its cultures, and practices are explained. Instead, the reader is very much immersed in the world from the get-go, with nothing but context to go on. Though I managed to grasp the terms “bravi” (the roof-top running sword fighters) and “azanata” (those of noble birth and standing in Bezim),  fairly quickly, it did leave me scrambling and confused to figure them out initially. And if that weren’t enough, I got confused by the switching of using first and last names to refer to the same characters. Embarrassingly, I mixed up one of the main side characters with an antagonist Inquisitor at one point, and was forced to do a fair bit of rereading to get a better grasp of the events.


Though I could have done with some more explanation or detail, I was still able to be interested in all of the different alternating narratives. The readers’ view of this world of Bezim is bolstered by the perspective and perceptions of a cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds, who are perfectly poised to provide different perspectives and commentary on the events of the novel. There was not a single character amongst the cast whom I did not like, but I wouldn’t really say that I loved any of them either. I especially liked steadfast and composed Anahid, who manages to get embroiled in Siyon’s schemes and those of her practicing alchemist husband. I loved Anahid’s longing for something more, but not knowing what that something is, and watching her find the courage to pursue figuring that out. I also delighted in her quick thinking, good humor, and loyalty.


Likewise, Anahid’s younger sister Zaigiri offers another interesting and very different perspective from that of her sister. She eschews her life of privilege, preferring to run along the rooftops with the Bravi among whom Siyon himself had previously found a home of sorts. Despite Siyon getting caught up in the potentially deadly politics of alchemy and Inquisitors and the tricky business of saving the world, Siyon even manages to form a romantic attachment with a young male noble named Izmirlian Hisaranti, who commissions Siyon’s expertise to send him beyond the planes of existence, out of some idle curiosity to know what’s out there, noble boredom, a death wise…or something.


“‘Velo.’ Hisarani smiled, and it was little condescending, but also a little bleak. ‘Here is the secret of the azatani: Ask for everything and be appalled if you don’t get it.'”


Though I didn’t really fully understand or at all relate to Izmirlian’s motivations, especially when it would spell his death or at least his failure to exist on the current plane—or everyone’s support of it for that matter—I definitely understood the mutual attraction between Izmirlian and Siyon. Siyon can literally do anything—save the world, teach himself alchemy (somehow), and seduce a noble. And to top it off, in this budding queer relationship and throughout the entirety of Notorious Sorcerer, runs an undercurrent of commentary on the class divisions of Bezim. 


There is so much to love in Notorious Sorcerer—the unique world-building, the complex characters, the humor and banter, and the magic system, but I unfortunately found it just wasn’t my cup of tea. To me, the novel was either rushing at breakneck speed (to the point that I usually wasn’t certain I grasped what had actually happened), or slowed to a standstill for long-winded explanations on alchemy and political meetings. Instead of finding alchemy as fascinating as I did in the beginning of the novel when Siyon was traversing the other planes to look for ingredients, I found these discussions on techniques, theory, and methods, quite sadly, tedious, and consistently struggled to keep my eyes open whenever a discussion on alchemic theory popped up. And these topics do come up quite frequently. 


“When no hurrying feet were heard, Joddani continued, more quietly, ‘I don’t know what has been unearthed that make its possible for you toHe waved an irritable hand. ‘To ignore all the rules. But they exist for a reason, and your willful ignorance will not save you from destructionnor me, nor the rest of this house, nor indeed the entire plane!'”


For those that love unique world-building and scrappy characters with the odds stacked against them, look no further than Notorious Sorcerer. Though the novel was ultimately not to my taste, I still found it entertaining. And though I have no plans to read future installments in this series, I will definitely check out future works by the author, Davinia Evans, who I think is a talented new voice in the fantasy genre. 


Book Review : Notorious Sorcerer - Blogging with Dragons

Posted September 12, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy


2 responses to “Book Review : Notorious Sorcerer

  1. This book desperately needed a glossary right at the beginning. I was LOST for a good chunk until I figured out what some words meant. And I agree with you — I don’t really understand what Izmirlian wanted? To die, but not be dead? I didn’t get it but I did love their relationship. Great review. We feel very similar about this one.

    • Thank you! Yes, I completely agree with you! It was a bit disheartening to feel like I had no idea who/what was going on. I really wanted to like this novel, and still felt it was well written, but it just wasn’t for me.

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