Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (#1)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk
Publisher: Twigboat Press
What Goodreads has to say:
What I have to say:I don't usually talk about my own writing on here, but I'm gong to make a brief exception right now.
It took me a few years to realize how my writing process works. It's like this:
1. Write a book.
2. Read through it and make a few edits.
3. Decide it's probably the next great American novel.
4. Wait several months.
5. Read it again.
6. Realize it needs a complete rewrite.
As such, it's easy for me to understand why author Jeffrey Bardwell has rewritten Rotten Magic twice (well, at least twice, as far as I know).
I'm also happy to say that this third (and, as he tells me, final) incarnation of Devin's story is not only the best yet, but a more complete, satisfying story than either of the previous two versions.
First of all, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that the story starts in Devin's village before he gets accepted into the Artificer's Guild. He's still a poor, innocent country boy with stars in his eyes. Reading the first few chapters of the story, I just kept thinking, "Yes! Yes! Yes! This is where Devin's story starts."'
It's soooo much more interesting and satisfying to start here when he's an ignorant young bumpkin who wants nothing more than to study at the Artificer's Guild. He's never seen the Iron City: he has no idea what he's in store for, or what the Artificer's Guild is really like.
It gives the tragedy that follows (in this book and the sequels) so much more weight. And it makes Devin's character arc so much more compelling.
I equally loved getting to see Devin's first encounter with Drusilla, Benny, and all the other students. The first two Rotten Magics started with Devin already in his last year of apprenticeship--at which point he'd been living in the Iron City for a few years and was already enmeshed in the tangled web of the Artificer's Guild, with Benny as his nemesis and Drusilla as his best friend.
In those other two drafts, I never realized what I was missing. It's so fun to see these relationships take shape. It's so fascinating to see Devin transform from his first to final year as an Artificer.
For anyone who hasn't had the benefit of seeing this story slowly take shape (and it's been so interesting to see), I'll stop talking about the changes and just dive into the story itself.
Magic. Steampunk. Characters so complex you cheer for them one moment and cringe for them the next. You love them, hate what they're doing, and find the whole thing so utterly fascinating you can't look away from the impending train wreck. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE HERE? THIS IS EVERYTHING I WANT IN A BOOK.
Devin is such a fascinating character, and perhaps equally fascinating is Drusilla. Though I'm still perplexed by her actions in the final chapter (how does she think turning Devin over to the Black Guards is going to free him?), I so love Drusilla's character and her inner monologues:
And of course you're only doing this for Devin's sake, I told myself. Because his behavior has grown so bizarre, his inventions so dangerous. Not from any sense of jealousy? Not because never in your craziest dreams could you have imagined such an awesome flame-throwing device? And you, the lamper's daughter, no less!
As for Devin himself, he's your ultimate troubled hero. I love the boy to death and want nothing more than for him to succeed. But from the moment he first kindles a fire from his fingertips--not even a fire, really, just a faint, fleeting warmth--you know where this is all headed.
Oh, did I mention? Magic is forbidden in the Iron Empire. Devin's not only a crazy brilliant artificer--he's secretly a mage.
Also, he's unstable as heck. Is it something to do with the magic? Does magic make a person unstable? Dangerous? Is Devin really--like the mages on all those propaganda posters--a monster?
I love it, I'm here for all of it--even the train wreck at the end.
And writing this, the spirit of my former English major (writing her senior thesis on Frankenstein adaptations) just resurfaced. Because what screams Frankenstein's monster like a troubled boy--cast out by his fellows and denied fellowship until he's desperate--igniting a room full of innocent bystanders (well, admittedly, they are Black Guards who are probably going to arrest him, but still....)?
Whenever the Artificer's Guild students play Knights and Dragons--a bit like Capture the Flag, but the Flag is the Dragon and once you find him, well let's just say it's a bit more violent than Capture the Flag--Devin is ALWAYS the Dragon. Dragon Boy. That's his nickname. Why not just call him a monster and have done with it?
But somehow, like Frankenstein's monster, Devin may be the least monstrous of them all. He's so innocent. And yet--he's anything but innocent. It's complex, it's fascinating, it's beautiful. It's Rotten Magic 3.0.
This is where I break into applause.