When Caldan’s parents are brutally slain, he is raised by monks and taught the arcane mysteries of sorcery.
Vowing to discover for himself who his parents really were, and what led to their violent end, he is thrust into the unfamiliar chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to earn an apprenticeship with a guild of sorcerers.
But he soon learns the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths.
As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that brings the world to the edge of destruction…
Self-publishing is where it’s at, it seems. Or at the very least, it’s where its at for traditional fantasy. Following in the footsteps of Anthony Ryan, Mitchell Hogan has used his success to land himself a deal with Harper Voyager. Unlike Inked which did nothing of real interest with the tropes it used to tell its tale, A Crucible of Souls at least bothered to take the time to develop an intricate magic system that almost results in a kind of steam-punk flare to it, using crafting (sometimes paper, sometimes metals) to great impact. That said, much of the rest of the world is pretty familiar. There is an Empire. There are people that have some kind of conflict with the Empire that will undoubtedly be expanded upon in the second book. And then there is Caldan. Caldan is clearly not your average sorcerer. What he is…we don’t know. And we don’t find out, presumably with the idea that the desire to find out will help nudge the reader into picking up the second book. We also don’t really find out anything about the jewelry bequeathed to him by his mother (and the “twist” at the end is easily guessed at a few different points in the book to be honest), nor much of anything about his parents at all except the tiniest scrap of information.
While I have no issues with the inherent idea of giving away everything in the first book, I still feel like the reader should be given something, even if it was just one thing because now it’s coming off as coy. Case and point: early on in the book Caldan comments on how hungry he is, and how he’s eating like twice as much as everyone else and clearly going through a growth spurt. There are then at least another half-dozen variations of this same scene. Any fantasy vet would be able to tell you at the first scene that it wasn’t a growth spurt. The rest of the scenes may as well be bashing you over the head with PAY ATTENTION TO THIS IT IS IMPORTANT. If that still wasn’t enough, he’s thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to having special snowflake powers. Clearly, he is not your average sorcerer, so see what I mean about playing coy? Just tell the reader what’s going on! There are plenty of other mysteries to last the remainder of the trilogy.
As for the rest of the book? It’s solid enough, I guess. The side-stories didn’t really grab me, but it was nice to see that many of the side characters were women, and many of them were varying degrees of powerful, so I will give him that, and hey, even though I’m tired of the trope of the character who will let all manners of evil be committed in the name of wiping out a specific kind of evil, again, it’s nice to see a woman play that part. Equal opportunity crazy!
All told, this book is very much classic traditional fantasy with only slight modern updates (c.f. the number of female characters). There is absolutely an audience for this kind of book and if you’re a part of that audience, I think you’ll dig this. If you’re looking for something more modern, something a little different, this may not be the book for you, so take that into mind wen deciding to pick it up.
Verdict: Borrow It
Available: September 22nd