Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mary Frances Zambreno

A Plague of Sorcerers
by Mary Frances Zambreno
Recommended Age: 12+

Jermyn Graves lives in a world in which technology is at a level of 19th century England, but magic is a huge part of society. Agriculture, medicine, trade, and political intrigues are all touched by some kind of wizardry—and in the Empire which, I take it, is loosely based on England, no one sees anything wrong with this. Only across the channel, on the Continent (sort of like our Europe), wizards and witches aren’t allowed, and magic is a dark art carried out in the shadows.

Fortunately, Jermyn lives in the Empire, as his destiny is to be some kind of sorcerer. Only it isn’t clear what kind he will be, and he seems to be a late bloomer—to the enduring frustration of his Aunt Merry, who has raised him since his parents died. Now that Jermyn has finally called a familiar—an animal companion that a wizard uses as a conduit for the magic inherent in life itself—he can finally get started with an apprenticeship.

But there are a few minor problems. For one, Aunt Merry is under a curse resulting from a magical duel. She can’t do any magic at all, and it’s all she can do to keep her herbalist shop in business. For two, an influential weather wizard has a grudge against Jermyn that may ruin his career before it even gets started. For three, he is having the hardest time learning to control his magic, resulting in explosive and often smelly results. For four, owls and cats are OK, but no one has any respect for a wizard whose familiar is a skunk. And for five, a wily foreign nobleman who is plotting to destabilize the empire may have something to do with a deadly plague that is spreading from wizard to wizard, putting most of the capital city’s magical establishment in a coma. What is Jermyn, the most befuddled of apprentices, to do about it?

This novel, based on a short story by the same author, is hilarious, inventive, surprising, and warm-hearted. It has its own brand of magic, but one that will make Friends of Harry feel right at home.

EDIT: The only other books by Zambreno that I know of are Journeyman Wizard and, in the multiple-author "Voyage of the Basset" series, Fire Bird. Other authors who have contributed to this series include Sherwood Smith, Tanith Lee, and Alan Dean Foster.

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