‘The Sorcery Code’ by Dima Zales and Anna Zaires is a magitek wonder of a book that will appeal to lovers of fantasy and science fiction.
In a world where an elite class of sorcerers rules the magic-less peasants, eccentric sorcerer Blaise works on an invention that will help ordinary people use magic. His intention is to even the class divide, end a drought, and prevent revolution. What he does not intend is create an artificial intelligence capable of mind-boggling feats of magic. And he definitely did not intend for this artificial intelligence to take on the form of a beautiful woman.
Gala, as she names herself, is highly intelligent but extremely naive. As she explores the outside world, Blaise tries to keep her from those who see her as an abomination — including his ex-fiance, her ambitious lover, and Blaise’s old mentor who appears to have sinister plans of his own for Gala. Excessive beauty and power combined with a strong will are hard to hide, however, and Gala soon finds herself beyond anyone’s help but her own.
The world of ‘The Sorcery Code’ is intricate and well-imagined, but in tone feels like a fairy tale. The society we visit between the pages has a clear, rigid class structure and history including uprisings, revolts, murder, and class warfare. Magic is based on a mathematical system which sorcerers are constantly trying to improve with new inventions. With that in mind, you might think ‘The Sorcery Code’ would be a grimdark novel along the lines of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ or ‘The Broken Empire.’
While the world might be grim, the writing and experiences of the characters — particularly Gala — are so lush and vibrant that the book avoids a bleak, depressing tone to match the bleak, depressing world. Gala’s innocence provides a sharp contrast to the harsh world she experiences. Gala is created to give hope for a better world, and her perspective embodies that spirit. While the rest of the world has been ground down by cynicism, Gala remains capable of love, hope and passion.
That is, perhaps, why she is drawn to Blaise. Gala, who is essentially a sentient equation, is essentially logical about most things. Blaise, on the other hand, is rash, passionate, and doesn’t tend to think things through. While their personalities are different, they share more than a physical attraction.
The budding romance between creation and creator is the strangest part of ‘The Sorcery Code.’ The ethical implications are not lost on Blaise, although Gala doesn’t have enough experience of human behavior to understand why a relationship would be wrong. The “will they, won’t they” banter and sexual tension are pleasant to read and provide a more personal stake in Blaise and Gala’s desire to protect each other. Unlike other such stories where one party holds a clear advantage over the other, Gala rapidly becomes Blaise’s equal in magical prowess. As the “real” world chips away at her innocence and idealism, you wonder whether this artificial intelligence will retain her ability to feel love.
While certain aspects feel reminiscent of a fairy tale love story, ‘The Sorcery Code’ examines the problematics of intelligent artificial life like any good science fiction novel. Blaise’s affection for Gala blinds him to the danger she poses, but Blaise’s ex can clearly see the horrific implications of a being as powerful as Gala. Only by coincidence is Gala capable of love, compassion and a conscience. Even then, she sometimes uses her powers in a way that completely violates the sanctity of a human mind.
In one scene, Gala “heals” a cruel man by overwriting his personality via magic. This is experienced by the novel’s anti-Gala faction as a rape. Gala was created to bring about a better world, but even those who want change don’t relish the idea of living under the rule of a benevolent dictator who can wipe people’s minds with magic.
Obviously, Blaise and Gala’s perspectives are biased towards their point of view. Luckily, we get other perspectives that explore other biases. Blaise’s ex is the other main viewpoint character. Her narrative voice provides a sassy, cynical, delightful contrast to Blaise’s passion and Gala’s naivete, and her sorcerers’ duels with Blaise and other factions make for truly epic reads.
The novel uses character name headings to separate different third person sections, but these “character chapters” often flow seamlessly into each other — sometimes even switching characters in the middle of a scene as the other viewpoint becomes more important. Initially, this writing style can be jarring. It becomes less strange as you read on. It’s the best choice of writing style for this kind of story: a book with sympathetic antagonists that wants you to consider all viewpoints equally.
If you like fantasy that mingles magic with science, ‘The Sorcery Code’ is for you.