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15 July 2021

#Review - The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Illustration by Fang Xinyu,
design by Pablo Defending

The Return of the Sorceress
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Subterranean Press, 30 June 2021
Available as: HB, 95pp
Source: Purchased copy
ISBN: 9781645240303

In fantasy, one frequently encounters young warriors and magicians, adventurers with a destiny. They discover their talents and make names for themselves, transforming their societies and often assuming power.

The Return of the Sorceress is a refreshing contrast with that. In this book, Moreno-Garcia shows us Yalxi, who is rather tired. She has been there, done that - was until recently the Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers - and lost it all. It's not that Yalxi's old in years - she's in her 30s - but the powerful magics she and her kind manipulate, based on gems inhabited by temperamental spirits, consume the user, forcing them to become more and more dependent on that unholy power.

And having lost the Diamond Heart to her treacherous lover Xellah - who then had her imprisoned in a dungeon and literally bled alive - Yalxi now lacks the thing that staved off decay, that kept her young, that made her strong. She must have the Diamond Heart back!

So begins a story of desperation, subterfuge and cunning, as Yalxi levers every bit of power she can find, every scrap of knowledge, hiding out in the worst parts of town, unsure who to trust and remembering the life that's brought her to this point. In a relatively few pages, Moreno-Garcia gives a vivid and engaging portrait of a fantasy city, from its marshy underpinnings and decaying mansions to brassy parades and festivals and the legacy of invasion and conquest. It is so vivid, I could have lingered and lingered on the streets and in the seedy palaces and halls.

But The Return of the Sorceress isn't about world building, it's about the relationships that Yalxi built, and those she broke. One feels a weight of unspoken, but implied, business between her and Xellah, from their daring overthrow of their master Teotah, former owner of the Heart, to their failure to destroy it, to their rule of the city - bringing with it the supplies of blood they needed for their magic. This trajectory isn't detailed but one can sense the compromises, the betrayals and the frustrations that led up to the present, a present which places Yalxi in great danger, should Xellah recapture her.

It seems the best thing to do would be to run away, and several times Yalxi's advised to do that. But Yalxi isn't done, there are powers she believes that she can call on to restore her fortune. And at this point I was really pleased and surprised to see how Moreno-Gracia spins the story into a moral dilemma, power and revenge beckoning, danger all around and very few good options. 

Overall, it was great fun to read with vivid characters and done in splendid shades of moral grey - nobody here has clean hands. 

Very enjoyable.

For more information about The Return of the Sorceress, and to order a copy, see the publisher's website here


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