Bridget Lederle is the lighthouse keeper on Sand Island, Wisconsin in 1899. She’s an outcast, having had a baby (which died) while she was single. One night she saves the life of mysterious Valin Kalami whose boat crashed onto the rocky shore of Lake Superior.
It turns out that Kalami is a sorcerer sent from the kingdom of Isavalta to find Bridget — who doesn’t realize that she has a tie to this parallel world and some powers of her own. With not much to keep her on Sand Island, she agrees to return to Isavalta with Kalami. There she finds a world full of political intrigue, treachery, and magic. The state of things isn’t exactly how Kalami described it back in Wisconsin, and it’s very hard to know who to trust.
The Plot: A Sorcerer’s Treason winds up slowly until Bridget gets to Isavalta, and then it becomes fast-paced. There is plenty of intrigue and treason going on in the Isavaltan court, but Bridget uncovers it for us too early in the plot — we aren’t left wondering who are the bad guys for long. There were several plot elements that seemed only loosely tied to the story. I didn’t really understand the motives of the Vixen and Baba Yaga, for example, and I wondered why they were included at all. Perhaps this is made clear in future installments, but it has me confused so far. The ending scene was strange and, I think, kind of cheesy. It was one of those triumphant “I’ve dealt with my past and now I can move forward” kind of scenes.
The Characters: Sarah Zettel writes some wonderful and believable characters. Ananda, the dowager, Mikkel, Sakra, and Kalami are all interesting and I would have liked to read more from their perspectives. Unfortunately, Bridget, whose perspective we mainly follow, is not so admirable. There’s nothing wrong with her, but there’s not much interesting, either. For the most part, she gets passively pulled through the plot and doesn’t actually do much herself, even though we’re told that she’s a very powerful sorceress. There was plenty of tension and many problems for her to deal with, but mainly they resolved themselves quickly with little conscious effort on Bridget’s part. I was hoping to see her rise up to her potential, but she never did.
The World of Isavalta: Before choosing this book, I’d heard much about the unique setting of glorious Isavalta, but I didn’t experience much of it in A Sorcerer’s Treason. Isavalta is only briefly described. I think the references I read must be for other books in the Isavalta series. I’m tempted to read one just to find out more because it sounds like Sarah Zettel’s world has wonderful potential.
The Magic System: The magic system involves weaving spells with fabric, hair, etc. and I liked it at first. However, I soon realized that it seemed to have no clear rules. When we don’t know the rules, we can’t anticipate what can and can not be done with magic. Therefore, the author can get the characters out of tight spots too easily by just adding a new magic spell. In contrast, consider the rule-based systems of J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, or Janny Wurts. When you know there are limits to the heroes’ powers, not only does this make them more understandable, but it makes us worry and fret when things go bad for them. And, of course, that makes us connect with them emotionally. In fact, the characters I liked best in A Sorcerer’s Treason were the ones who had no powers at all. I can’t give you specifics without spoiling the plot, but those two had the best scene in the book — I actually had to dab at my eyes with a hanky.
The writing: Sarah Zettel’s writing is pleasant, easy, and understandable, but not particularly gorgeous. My Tor hardback edition had multiple distracting editorial mistakes — mostly words missing.
Conclusion: A Sorcerer’s Treason is light standard epic fantasy from an independent, but somewhat soft, female protagonist’s perspective. Its strengths are the suspense and multi-textured plot. I’d recommend it to those looking for a mysterious and easy read.
Isavalta — (2002-2007) Publisher: One day Bridget Lederle “sees” a small boat being dashed to pieces on the rocks off the island in a storm; the next day she finds a man thrown up on the shore, almost dead. He tells her that she can save the Dowager Empress of his land, Isavalta. However, nothing is quite as he promised her.