Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

Welcome to Bezim, where tribes of sword-slinging bravi race through the night, and where rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing the four planes of reality.

Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits and act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight – which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the city into the sea. It will take a miracle to save Bezim. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he has to master it. 

I’m coming to this review straight from closing the book, which is unusual for me, and shows just how compelling Notorious Sorcerer really is. It’s a remarkable and ambitious debut, and the first in a new fantasy series which I will now be following avidly. It’s set in the city of Bezim, the only place in the world where it’s possible – but not legal – to practice Alchemy. It has been banned ever since one working caused the Sundering, a tremor that split the city, but there are those that still practice it. Among these is Siyon Velo, who spends his days delving into the three other planes of existence for materials to sell to aristocratic alchemists, in the hopes he can one day afford to become one of them.

Bezim is fascinating, with a really interesting social structure; it is governed by a prefect, and the law is maintained by inquisitors. It’s then split into districts, such as the Avenues where the wealthy and powerful (the azatani) live, the Flower District ruled by the barons, in which people may indulge in all manner of entertainments, and the Lower City, both physically lower from the Sundering and lower for the class of people who live there. There are also the industrialists, the dockworkers, and the bravi – gangs of duellists that clash together for entertainment and profit – who rule the rooftops of Bezim at night. Syion is a member of the Little Bracken Bravi, and it’s where he meets Zagiri, an azatani girl who has joined looking for a thrill. It’s a desperate act of unexpected magic that Syion performs when saving her from death that catapults his life – and the entire city – into chaos.

“Between the planes was the void, and the void was perfect.”

The four planes of reality have been shifting out of balance for some time and Syion’s acts – closer to wild magic than rigorous alchemy – propel him into this struggle and the need to fix it, especially after the son of the prefect disappears in the middle of an alchemical gathering. At the same time, he takes up a job for Izmirlian Hisarani – a curious azatani – who wishes to leave the planes of existence behind and has been looking for someone able to make that happen. In short, Siyon is thrown into the deep end of everything, and with the inquisition after him, an impossible task to perform, and the very existence of the city under threat from another Sundering, it’s all he can do not to collapse. And yet, it seems that no one else is as uniquely placed to fix everything, though he may make an even greater mess along the way.

Siyon is one of four point of view characters, the others being his commissioner Izmirlian Hisarani, his fellow Bravi Zagiri, and her sister Anahid. All four are a delight to read, and they are only a fraction of a cast of vibrant, riotous characters that bring the story and the city of Bezim to life. Stepping into Notorious Sorcerer truly felt like stepping into a realised, ongoing world, in which we get just a hint of the whole. It is always a world-builder’s hope to create something that can stand on it’s own even outside of its story, and Davinia Evans really has done that with this book. It’s entertaining, awe-inspiring, and makes me want to dash off and work on my own writing in the hopes of even coming close to what she’s done here!

Lastly, I will say that I really enjoyed the ending. It took me a while to get there, because so much is packed into these 400(ish) pages and I found myself urging my brain to read faster to find out what would come of Siyon and his quest. And I was satisfied when I got there; Evans does not neatly wrap everything up, doesn’t pretend that one act by one person can change the entire world at once, but the ending leaves a sense of hope and suspense, a calm before the new storm, and with the little hints dropped throughout the final chapters, I am so excited to see what happens next! If you find yourself starting Notorious Sorcerer and feeling like you don’t know what is up and what is down, stick with it and it will be an exhilarating ride to the end!

Book Info

Published: 15th September 2022 by Orbit
Genre: fantasy, LGBTQ+
Pages: 409
Series: The Burnished City, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, four points of view
Format read: paperback
Content Warnings: violence, blood, death, trauma

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6 thoughts on “Review: Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans”

    1. Thank you! I listed A Taste of Gold and Iron because it has similar elements in terms of romance and setting, but the main plot is much more involved and satisfying. They just gave me a similar feeling when reading, really, but on a plot level they are very different!


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