James McStravick reviews The Shackled Scribes by Lars Teeney.
Futharkia is a city built upon the layout of an ancient rune shape, and a foundation of slavery. The Broxanians have been enslaved by the Olgoikhorkian Masters to exploit the Broxanian talent for rune-scribing. In exchange, the rune-scribes are compensated with the sweet, golden liquid, Ichor, that the giant worm-like Olgoikhorkians secrete from their glands. The Ichor also happens to be highly addictive and psychoactive. The system has worked for millennia.
However, the Great Fern Jungle that surrounds Futharkia is dying, being bleached white by some unseen force. Coupled with the fact that the simian-like Fern Lice have been hunted to near extinction to provide for Futharkia’s ever-increasing demand for food, Futharkia’s ecosystem is near collapse. It is amid this setting that Cyesko Limariar, an aging rune-scribe makes one last attempt at greatness to lift himself out of poverty, even if by fraudulent means.
In my experience I have noticed that a lot of fantasy books of late focus on worlds inhabited by one or more of the four main races (Human, Dwarf, Elf or Half-ling). So when I saw the cover and read the synopsis for The Shackled Scribes I was very intrigued by its unique concept.
From the outset of the book we are quickly dropped into a scene with one of the main characters, Tialina, as she goes about her daily job, but as the chapter progresses it quickly escalates into a very intriguing and intense situation. The story in The Shackled Scribes is one of my favourite aspects of the book as I found it seemed to jump between one intense and intriguing scene to the next. This method makes the book extremely easy to read and consume at a quick pace.
I felt the characters were very well put together because, depending upon the situation they faced, you could see their different personality traits coming through. This made the characters very interesting to read about as you couldn’t always tell what they might do under certain circumstances, which was only enhanced by them being animals, because you were unsure as to what their nature and movement capabilities were. There were many moments when I jumped from liking and hating one particular character. I enjoy finding characters like this in books as I believe it makes them feel all the more emotionally driven and believable.
I have read many different books with a wide variety of takes on magical systems, but I have never come across a book that has a rune system as unique as the one found in The Shackles Scribes. At first it seems like there are many common rune etchings in the world and many have different properties, but it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t the case, because not all of them have been uncovered. It is this concept that helps drive one of the main plot points of the books, and it makes for some very interesting and intriguing read when we discover how they come about.
Even with all of the above I felt the box as a whole the book was somewhat let down by the world building, as I felt The Shackled Scribes had very little of it. There are certain times when we find out about the divide of the different classes and work, as well as some history of the world, but I felt these were only some instances that could have helped create a clearer picture of the world and its inhabitants. There were certain scenes that I struggled to imagine the world the inhabitants were exploring and for me this somewhat derailed my enjoyment of the book as a whole. With this in mind though I think The Shackled Scribes would greatly benefit from being turned into a graphic novel because I feel the world, inhabitants and magic system would greatly benefit from this, as well as allow the reader to see what the characters are experiencing.
The one aspect of the book that I disliked the most was the ending. Up until the last few chapters of the book I was really enjoying the story, but then something happens, and for me it almost felt like the final portion of the story was somewhat rushed towards an ending. Personally I struggled with the last few chapters of the book because certain characters’ actions no longer felt believable to me, and the story itself lost the excitement that I had experienced throughout the rest of the book.
With all of the above in mind, I enjoyed reading The Shackled Scribes as it was a very quick, fun and interesting read. It did have some problems with the world building and ending which took away some portion of my enjoyment. I think if certain details about the world and history were added then this would help strengthen the book greatly. I am looking forward to see if Lars Teeney does more in this world or with the current story as he has certainly left it open for a possible sequel or further stories in the same world.