The subtitle of The Conjurers is “A Gritty Fantasy of Witches and Wizards,” which is an apt description for this tale. While it’s set in fourteenth century Europe, the historical setting is a backdrop to what otherwise is a heavily fantasy-weighted piece of historical fantasy fiction. In short, the story concerns a game of sorts between witches and wizards, and the novel’s young protagonists are caught in the middle of this sometimes dark, but exciting tale.
The novel follows two parallel storylines involving teenagers blessed with a secret gift that makes them the desired objects of a society of witches and wizards known as the Maleficarum. The first of the two stories involves the plight of Eamon, an Irish boy of fifteen, and his younger sister Caitlin. After their village is attacked by brigands, for reasons they have yet to understand, the brother and sister soon find themselves pursued by agents of the Maleficarum. Aided by a benign old witch named Nairne in the snowy lands near Dublin, Eamon and Caitlin must find a way to survive the growing list of foes trying to hunt them down.
The second tale involves a similarly gifted fourteen-year-old girl named Teresa, who is the daughter of a wealthy Italian family in Genoa. After her older brother goes missing, Teresa soon finds herself investigating his suspected murder at the hands of his employer, an alchemist named Maestro Lodovicetti. A visit by her brother’s ghost sends Teresa on a mission inside the Maestro’s inner sanctum, where she uncovers his dark secrets. Ultimately, she learns that the Maestro is one of the Maleficarum who is in search of a geistmage, a once-in-a-generation individual who can wield magic with mere thought and will, instead of having to employ the dark and disturbing rituals that witches and wizards are forced to use. Even more, the Maestro has located one of the geistmagen in Dublin, and has gone to find him in order to steal his powers. Believing her late brother would want her to go to Dublin too, Teresa sets out to find her way to Ireland.
At its heart, this is a story about witches and wizards and their hunt for three gifted geistmagen: Eamon, Caitlin, and Teresa. There are plenty of tense and violent moments along the way, and the author does a good job of building a sense of threat throughout. He also hints at another force opposing the Maleficarum, namely the Knights Templar, who have been secretly watching the children since they were born. Due to a series of events, the Knights end up playing a scant role in the story, though I suspect the sequel may expand their role considerably and tie this fantasy tale closer to history.
Overall, I found The Conjurers to be a suspenseful fantasy with an interesting premise. Despite covering ground from Italy to Ireland, it is not epic in feel, but intimate, always focusing on the plight of its protagonists or the plans of the various witches and wizards out to get them. This intimacy is effective because the author has created characters the reader can care about, particularly Teresa, whose longer journey allows more opportunities for decisions, both good and bad, that inevitably put her in greater danger.
The novel ends with a twist of sorts and the promise of much more to come in this magic-focused tale. We’ll have to wait for the sequel before the game resumes. And in the next installment, I hope the Knights Templar get a bit more playing time before the end game begins.
Thanks to a very cool feature on Amazon, you can read a preview of The Conjurers here.