The Charmed Sphere (Lost Continent, Bk 1)
The Charmed Sphere - Lost Continent, Bk 1 Author:Catherine Asaro Award-winning author Catherine Asaro, creator of The Skolian Empire, creates her first full-length fantasy novel in a world rich with magic and power. — What was the use of being a powerful mage if you couldn't learn the spells? — Once Chime had been the most promising mage in the land, feted and celebrated for her potential and ... more »future role in the kingdom. The Iris, the young competitor, made a stunning leap in skill and turned Chime's world upside down.
Now no longer the most powerful, no longer promised to a prince -- and still unable to harness her magic properly -- Chime was set adrift. As was the new king's cousin -- and former heir -- Lord Muller. Yet when the neighboring kingdom threatened war, Muller and Chime were tasked with uncovering the plot. Both were flawed, yet unwilling to accept a lesser destiny than they had once known. Could this quest be the opportunity for redemption -- or would it lead them to their deaths?« less
I really enjoyed this! It's a light and easy read, the characters are fun, and the action moves along nicely without any lags. It was also just what I was in the mood for! I've heard Asaro's sci-fi novels referred to as "space operas" and she certainly was able to juggle the four main characters here.
This is a very entertaining story which could be enjoyed by both adult and young adult readers. I will definitely be looking for the next book in the series!
Rebecca H. reviewed The Charmed Sphere (Lost Continent, Bk 1) on
Helpful Score: 2
** spoiler alert **So the basic premise is that protagonist Chime was found to be a powerful mage and asked to study at the capital (and hopefully marry the heir to the thro...more So, in an effort to branch out, I've been trying to read new authors. Plus, this gives me things to tell my mother when she asks what I want for Christmas (sequels!). A couple of weeks ago, I read The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro. I was a bit wary, as I always am with new authors. But it did have pretty, pretty cover art.
So the basic premise is that protagonist Chime was found to be a powerful mage and asked to study at the capital (and hopefully marry the heir to the throne, since it was customary for the consort to be a mage). Of course, there are all kinds of problems -- the original heir is dead, his son is missing, and the cousin who is the current heir is seen as a flake. Plus, the neighboring kingdom -- which has had a sort of uneasy peace with the kingdom -- is up to no good, they might have a mage themselves, and people keep trying to kill Chime and Mueller (the cousin).
Anyway, I had some problems with the magic system while thinking it could have been neat. The magic was based on shapes and colors -- mages had to focus through regular polygons or polyhedra and each kind of spell had colors -- for instance red spells called light and heat, green spells let the user sense emotions, orange and yellow spells soothed physical and emotional pain, and indigo and blue spells healed physical and emotional wounds. You could also reverse the spells to do the opposite -- cause harm and agitation -- but considering most powerful mages were wired into others' emotions, it wasn't a good idea at all. The shape aspect came in because mages need to focus through shapes, and the higher level mages could use different shapes for more power (triangle, square, regular pentagon... up to circle, then regular tetrahedron through sphere).
So, first problem. I somehow suspect the author needs to think a bit more about geometry -- odd, since her SF bio lists her as a physicist. So, she specifies that regular/perfect shapes work, and imperfect shapes disrupt concentration (except for Mueller). For polygons, I assume that means regular ones. For polyhedra, I'd assume it meant the five Platonic solids (regular tetrahedron, cub/hexahedron, regular octahedron, regular dodecahedron, regular iscosahedron) , except one mage uses a square pyramid, and another uses a 18-sided shape. So maybe it's just 'shapes made of regular polygons', which seems a bit odd to me, since those don't really approach a sphere as the sides get infinite and are much less regular. (The Platonic and Archemedian solids do, but that limits you to 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 20, 26, 32, 38, 62 and 92 faces -- I don't think anyone got higher than 20 without going to a sphere.) For that matter, you get 'box', 'cube' and 'hexahedron' all being used in the book, with no explained reason as to why the difference in terminology.
So, second problem. The book suffers a bit from Planet of the Hats syndrome. So there's shape magic. It's common in the royal family and shape mages are revered, with them often wearing crystal polyhedra marking their rank and serving as a magic focus -- the more faces and the higher-frequency the color, the more powerful the mage. The royal family decorates with mosaics, which makes sense, since they are mages and the constant use of shapes will mean they always have a focus at hand. The nobility and middle class folks copy this, because royalty are trendsetters. The non-magic folks use shapes as rank like the mages (and boy howdy did I get sick of shape-job as titles). The army is trained to march in formation so the mages can supplement them -- and here things got a bit silly, since each unit does a separate shape, and it's mentioned that losses causes problems in keeping the formation supported via magic, especially since you can't transfer guys from other units out. Here is where I'd like to see some concession to actual military tactics -- do something like the hoplites or Roman legions where you put all your dudes in lines with shields as a wall (you can get hexagons if you stagger the lines). That way, everyone knows whats what, the army can fill in holes, tactics match the formation, and you can use your archers or cavalry to keep the enemy from trying to get around your army. Jeez, no wonder the kingdom gets nearly taken over.
Third problem has to do with the Planet of the Hats syndrome. I can buy mages shaping things... except later we find out that:
-- There are, on average, only a couple green to indigo mages born per generation, plus the Royal Family. And the Royal Family doesn't seem to be spreading the blood around by having younger siblings and marrying them off to nobility.
-- No one bothers to train the red to yellow mages, despite the fact they are much more common, and the spells are still useful. Sure, they can't heal, but they can block pain and fear, and still use the army formation as a focus.
-- Somehow, having under a dozen mages makes up for the fact the Angry Despotic Kingdom to the north has a competent and larger army, and this kingdom... doesn't. Also Angry Despotic Kingdom doesn't have mages -- the mage they employ turns out to be a refuge from the Protagonist Kingdom.
It feels like the book tries to have its cake and eat it too. Magic is special and elite, but it also influences everything. Generally, that doesn't work.
(It does get pluses for showing that, despite a pretty ordered magic system, all the four mages we meet have unique talents and work in different ways.)
Also, the plot. It avoided a few of the cliches (Oh, look, the heroine meets the prince in disguise while she's upset about being pressured to marry the prince. How long can the author string this out... oh, good, she finds out right away and we don't get stupid melodrama), but it felt like the author was pretty much bouncing from plot point to plot point without giving time for things to develop. I think she could have gotten two books out of this if things were developed better -- the relationship between Mueller and Chime, the location of the missing heir and discovery that he was a bit crazy, and then the war (okay, battle) with Angry Despot Kingdom.
I also liked the protagonist, but the author really needed to lay off the 'she is so pure and good that the antagonist puts conquering the kingdom on the line to get her'. And here I'm going to go into ending spoilers...
Okay, so Angry Despot King and Crazy Mage try to conquer Protagonist Kingdom. They are stopped by Our Heroes, who decide... hey, let's give Angry Despot Kingdom to Mueller and Chime, while the Missing Heir and his wife rule Protagonist Kingdom. Which was like... did Angry Despot King get hit by the Idiot Stick and not leave some guys back home? And are they okay with this? And are the people, even if they were taxed horribly, okay with being taken over by the kingdom to the south? And did Angry Despot King's wife and son -- only mentioned under the 'he had a treaty marriage but was so bad that his wife went home' -- okay with this? Not to mention the neighbors, who might be a tad upset by Protagonist Kingdom taking over Angry Despot Kingdom, even if the ADK attacked first.
It was kind of a fairy-tale ending tacked on so that it would be happy, but the author didn't sell it to me.
Yeah, this was an interesting world, and I didn't mind the characters, but the plot was an Idiot Plot. I might read the next one, but it's definitely going on the 'buy used or get as gift' list. And it might improve with practice -- a lot of first-in-series books can be shaky.
A magical world based on spellcasters who use color and shape to channel their powers. Along the way you'll meet a promising young mage, a former heir, and their opportunity for redemption. If you enjoy high fantasy, The Charmed Sphere's a great choice.