The Charmed Sphere is written by Catherine Asaro, who is best known for her Skolian Saga series of space opera. This is the first book in the Misted Cliffs series, currently comprised of five romantic fantasy novels and the story “Moonglow” from the Charmed Destinies collection. I have enjoyed the three Skolian novels I have read, and I found The Charmed Sphere entertaining, although a lot simpler and lighter than Asaro’s science fiction.
When Chime hears that the king is coming to her town, she does not run outside to watch the procession by the street but instead climbs a tree where she can watch discreetly – or so she thinks. The Mage Mistress Della No-Cozen senses Chime’s presence and shape mage abilities when she rides by despite the young woman’s efforts to hide. Later Della visits Chime, who is the strongest mage of her generation and whom she has discovered at a time when they are difficult to find. Although Chime is reluctant to leave her home, Della persuades her to marry the king’s heir so she can one day become queen, who leads as a strong shape mage and helps protect the country against its neighboring enemy. Neither Chime nor her groom-to-be are happy with the idea of marrying a stranger until they actually meet and discover they are very attracted to one another.
Chime begins learning about spellcasting from Della No-Cozen but has difficulty memorizing and recalling the information she is taught. Soon she is joined by a second apprentice, Iris, who also has potential to be a strong mage. While Iris has a much easier time with explaining how magic works, she has far more trouble than Chime with actually managing to cast a spell and is thought to be weaker than her predecessor. However, once Iris overcomes her obstacles and uses her power, it is apparent that she is the stronger of the two and would be better suited to be queen – and Chime is reduced to second best.
The Charmed Sphere is a fluffy, easy to read story that had me turning the pages. One problem I did have at the beginning of the story was that the names were cheesy and reeked of trying too hard to sound like fantasy names – Varqelle the Cowled, Anvil the Forged, Chime Headwind. When the king’s heir was introduced at the beginning of chapter two as “Muller Startower Heptacorn Dawnfield,” I nearly put the book down and started something else. (Fortunately, he is just referred to as “Muller” after that.)
This novel was fairly traditional fantasy – mages, royalty, warriors, and a “good” side and a “bad” side complete with a villain who needed to be foiled. I did appreciate that there was an actual magic system, although it was relayed through the often-used method of an instructor explaining to a student. Spellcasting was done by focusing on a shape with more powerful mages able to use more complex shapes. Mage ability was based on the colors of the rainbow with stronger magic users able to use more colors. For example, Chime and Della were both green mages, meaning they could do red, orange, yellow, and green spells. Blue mages like Iris could use all the colors a green mage could plus blue. Each color was associated with a type of magic, such as blue for healing and green for empathy. Mages tended to be best at spells involving the highest level color they could do, making Chime best at feeling and soothing emotions.
It was Chime and Muller who carried the story for me. Chime began as a very powerful woman who was going to become the most important woman in the country, only to have all that turned upside down. She had the potential to be amazing yet had struggles with learning instead of picking up everything easily. In fact, many considered her to be stupid since she did have trouble with memorization. Muller was also flawed with unusual power that no one believed he had and that he found difficult to control. Together, Chime and Muller were very entertaining – Chime is stubborn and immovable and Muller was terribly vain and obsessed with his appearance before Chime shook things up for him. To listen to them, you would think they hated each other but they very obviously do not.
This was a fun book to read but I did feel it was not a particularly well-written one. As I mentioned earlier, the names were rather distracting and we were also told several times that “Muller brooded,” which I found annoying in a show-don’t-tell sort of way. In spite of Della’s status as king’s advisor and an expert in magic, she did seem somewhat uninformed about some aspects of the subject’s history that it seemed like she should have known. She told Chime that some types of magic were only rumors and myths yet later it turned out someone she would have known had those abilities. Mages were scarce at this point in time, but it did seem like an awful lot of people with strange twists to their powers that had not been seen before in recent history kept popping up. Perhaps this is explained in later books, but it seemed odd to me that so many of the main characters had unusual mage powers that the “experts” had not seen nor heard of before.
The Charmed Sphere did not strike me as a technically good book but it was absorbing enough to keep me wanting to know what happened next, particularly since I did care about what happened to Chime. I’ll be reading the next book, although it is not one I must rush out and buy immediately.