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Review: Arcanum by Simon Morden

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Arcanum by Simon Morden // VBC ReviewArcanum
Simon Morden
Published:  Jan. 28, 2014 (Orbit)
Purchase at: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Krista

Rating (out of 5): 3 stars

Arcanum is not the typical VBC read. This is not the latest paranormal romance, urban fantasy or young adult. There isn’t any kick-ass heroine sweeping in to save the day. There are no heroes or anti-heroes to salivate over. The only role that magic plays is the lack thereof. This is a traditional alternate historical fiction.

Carinthia is an extremely small country, surrounded on all sides by larger and physically stronger countries. But for centuries Carinthia has remained in power by relying on the strength of their legendary hexmasters. Any conflict or opposition from their neighbors was met with swift and vicious retaliation. Beyond the military might application, magic suffused the daily life of the Carinthian citizen. Magic was used to light their houses, plow their fields, fill their wells, etc. But what happens when magic ceases to exist?

When I first approached reading Arcanum, I was expecting a book about magic, which is why I was somewhat disappointed. Depending where you look this book up, you can get a very misleading blurb. (I recommend going directly to the author’s website for an accurate description.) That being said this is not a book about magic, but a study in change and survival. Simon Morden painstakingly plots out the epic evolution through various points of view. We are given glimpses into the minds of princes, librarians, huntmasters, hexmasters, peasants and spies. He successfully creates characters that draw you deeper into the story.

The aspect I found most jarring in Arcanum was the breezing by or skipping over relationships between characters. The reader would only find out about connections between characters in quick reflections. For example two characters meet at the beginning of the book but we didn’t find out they fell in love until one is telling a friend near the end of the book. It also isn’t explained how a Jewish peasant girl becomes the Princess Consort to a prince 10 years younger than her? I would have liked the attention to detail given to everything else to also have flushed out the relationship points between characters.

Overall I enjoyed Arcanum, but I would have preferred more depth into why magic was disappearing from the world. Why did some characters retain magic, while others faded from existence entirely? It would have increased my appreciation of the work if this, and character relationships, had been flushed out more. I do acknowledge that it is strange to ask this of a 700+ page book, but it could easily have been divided into three distinct sections or books.

In the end though it is a matter of taste and, though I may not have loved Arcanum, I believe Morden was successful in creating the journey he intended.

Sexual content: None

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