“Glyphbinder” is the first published novel by T. Eric Bakutis, a writer, game designer, and lead content developer for the MMORPG “The Elder Scrolls Online.” A fantasy novel set in its own medieval–styled world, it delivers an intriguing premise, gripping magical combat scenes, and high–quality writing, but the plot falters halfway through and has some annoying aspects.
The novel starts with the mage Xander Honuron frantically trying to stop a plot by his father Varyn and grandmother Melyssa. Xander’s unborn child Kara has especially magical blood that can be used to re–release the Mavoureen, deadly demons from a hellish world called the Underside. This makes Kara a danger to the world of the Five Provinces. Melyssa is a powerful Bloodmender mage (Chapter 24) and Xander, incapacitated, is unable to stop her from altering the memories of him and his wife Ona. Their minds are warped and they are given false memories so that Ona believes herself to instead be married to the lowly fisherman Rance Tanner (Chapter 9) and that Kara is his daughter.
Nineteen years later, Kara Tanner is a student mage at the magical academy Solyr, which is located in the province of Mynt. Her mother Ona is gravely ill and Kara is slowly acquiring ingredients necessary for a complicated spell to save her. The freaky catch is that the spell she plans to use would have her transfer bodies with her mother, allowing her mother to spend the rest of life in Kara’s healthy body and Kara to die in Ona’s body. This is quite a sacrifice to make and speaks of Kara’s great depth.
The novel continues with teenage Kara rescuing a mysterious man in the woods, competing to become the royal apprentice of the capital Tarna, fighting with her friends against the demons mysteriously returning to the world, and trying to avert a war.
Bakutis has written a unique system of magic in this world. Most magic is performed using blood glyphs, which are scribed by cutting one’s own fingers and then drawing symbols in one’s own blood. As can be expected, the loss of blood causes an additional strain and characters can easily exhaust themselves with these blood sacrifices. At times, characters come near death because they’ve used so much blood while spellcasting. This gives an extra sense of urgency when mages do battle.
There are also distinct magical specialties. Bloodmenders, such as Kara’s best friend Sera, have an acute awareness of the body. They can heal by magically transfusing their own blood, detect lies through body language, and also reverse their magic to cause illness. Soulmages, such as Kara’s friend Jair, can communicate with spirits and also channel them to gain their skills. Firebrands, such as Kara’s competitor Aryn, simply use fire. Earthers can manipulate land. Skywatchers can teleport and make echo stones for long–distance communication. Glyphbinders like Kara work to have a breadth of knowledge in all specialties, but doing so is the most difficult.
Most of the characters are interesting and the plot is fast–paced. One of the most creative scenes is near the beginning, in which a psychic tree mentally violates Kara. But the plot loses steam after the climactic battles with the villain Jyllith Malconen and her forces. Afterward, there seems to be a lot of filler material, especially unnecessary dialogue.
What gets most annoying is how several characters die and later return to life. It seems clear that Bakutis got this idea from video and computer games, where players simply are resurrected after dying. Yet in a novel, even a fantasy novel, it feels too easy. Characters also switch bodies or get possessed by other beings many times. Characters get too many lucky breaks, especially from the godlike beings known as the Five Who Had Made the World. Villains change allegiances without much explanation. Ona is said to have a debilitating disease that causes her much pain, but in the second half she rides on horseback. There also some things that are left unexplained, particularly Paymon the Patriarch and the Alcedi.
Author: T. Eric Bakutis. Book: Glyphbinder. Edition: First Printing. Place of publication: New Bern, North Carolina. Publisher: McBryde Publishing. Date: August 15, 2013.