Once there was one nation, but a brutal war split it up into smaller kingdoms, each with its own laws, religion, and official views of magic and magic users. In the Kingdom of Vindeia, the Goddess was worshiped and the King supported by his High Priest and High Paladin, the warrior arm of the Goddess. They in turn ruled over lesser priests and paladins to help keep the kingdom safe from demons and chaos. Necromancers exist as well, but only on the outskirts of society, shunned for their supposed involvement in the dark arts.
In the neighboring Kingdom of Narvath, there is no Goddess worship and the Kingdom’s only practitioners of magic are the alchemists. And unlike the priests and paladins who lead lives of acceptance and relative ease, the alchemists are slaves, sold to the highest bidder once their gifts come alive. No other magical practices are allowed to exist by law.
But something evil is stirring that will bring death and chaos to both kingdoms and make them question their most basic of assumptions about magic and those who wield its powers.
When a cousin and fellow paladin is murdered in the most gruesome way, High Paladin Soren seeks out the advice of the Goddess to help him catch the murderer. Through her High Priest, the Goddess tells Soren that one comes to aid him, and that person is none other than one of the hated necromancers. Because his Goddess commands him, and against his better judgement, Soren accepts the help of the necromancer, Koray, to track down the murderer who has just struck again.
Koray the necromancer journeyed to the High Castle because the Goddess has commanded it, not knowing why but well aware of the reception he will get from the castle inhabitants. Necromancers have been beaten, tortured, and even killed on sight for ages and Koray expects the same to happen to him once he reaches his designation. But before he reaches the castle, he runs into Soren who is out in the woods mourning the loss of his friend and relative. Sparks ignite between them and once the dust settles, both men realize that the Goddess has brought them together and they agree to put aside all differences and prejudices to accomplish her goal, one that will change the kingdoms around them forever.
Once again, Megan Derr has given us a rich, densely layered world, so carefully crafted that even the forests and villages, vivid in their details, feel as real as the park down the street. Her partitioning of Magic into the various fields is not new, but it feels so here with all the elements she has crafted that go into Goddess worship and those that support her by magical means. There are the magical priests, paladins, necromancers, alchemists, and warlocks; no one is left out. As most of the action takes place in Vendeia, that is the region given the most detail. From the castle battlements to the various rooms, right up to the Cathedral itself, Derr brings it to life from the rough hewn stones to the smooth rock of the hallways, I could see it all so clearly. Just a wonderful job in making a fantasy world seem authentic and real.
Her characters possess an equal measure of complexity and realism as their settings. They can be a haughty and humorous, irritating and endearing, abused and long suffering, all these facets of their personas. What they never are is dull. They have a tendency to argue themselves right into your hearts, make you grind your teeth in frustration over behaviors irrational and still you root for them to succeed. I loved each and every one Derr introduces to us, starting with Soren and Koray. Soren is the epitome of certainly in everything he does, while often volatile in the things he says when angry. And he meets his match in Koray, who is his equal in power and acidity of tongue. Their verbal interactions were a constant joy as they pivoted around each other in willful misunderstandings (Soren) and hurtful barbs (Koray). I loved watching their relationship develop. I would have been happy with just them but then the author adds two additional and intriguing couples, each full of surprises for each other and the reader. Really I couldn’t put this story down until I was done and their tale finished. And then of course I wanted so much more, more of these fascinating people and more of the future spread out so tantalizingly before them.
In Black Magic, Megan Derr has given us a remarkable fantasy full of magnificent quests, horrific deaths, and love most human. She really is my go to author for fantasy when I want to lose myself in magic, warlocks, knights, villains most evil, and lost causes. I will put this next to my other favorites, up front and ready to begin my journey with these memorable characters once more.