“All the Paths of Shadow,” or, “magic that requires an engineering degree is my aesthetic”
This book was so satisfying to read. Like, pretty much everything I predicted was going to happen, I was right about, but it managed to do that in a way that didn’t make me go “ugh this is so predictable” as much as it did “yes I was right!” Things were a wee bit different than I expected in places, which helped, but overall I just had a lot of fun with the book. Probably my favorite of the books I’ve read in the past week or so.
So, your basic summary: it’s in a London-patterned city, which is about to host the Accords, a once-every-five-years meeting of the heads of the various kingdoms that make up the Islands. For a while I was trying to map the Islands to the British Isles, but eventually I realized that it’s more of an amalgamated British Isles and Europe – there’s a very clear Germany in there, and somebody that I think was supposed to be a vaguely Slavic nation? Of course, you’ve got the England that’s the main setting, and the Scots make a great appearance.
The timeline was a bit interesting, too – it was set in the 19th century, I believe, but since the setting is so far off of the real world, it sorta makes sense that their history was also way different. Add in the fact that you’ve got magic everywhere, and it’s pretty dang interesting.
And oh, the magic in this one, it was wonderful. I love magic systems where you can tell there’s a clear sense of the order underlying it, like the author has sat down and worked out how it all works. And this one is done so well, and integrated with the engineering capabilities of that era, to the point that I honestly thought there was going to be a bit of a twist early on that revealed that magic was actually just engineering with some serious flair to it. The first spell that’s worked is basically using an enchanted chain to find the angle between two points… and then the caster goes and does a bunch of trigonometry to figure out exactly where the big spell they’re planning needs to be cast. It’s wonderful.
And my, I’ve gone quite a ways without touching on the characters or the plot at all, which were also both wonderful. The protagonist is a delight, the first female Royal Thaumaturge, and she’s exactly as done with the geopolitics of the Accords as I would be in her place. And man, is the supporting cast fun – Mug, her familiar, is a delight, and her mentors are also off in the corner being the peanut gallery. It’s seriously fun.
I’m hoping I’ve done a good enough job of convincing you you should read this joke. If I have, here’s the link.