Author: Erika McCorkle
Genre: Epic Fantasy (intended for adults)
Publication Date: April 8th
“My secret would plunge the world into chaos.”
“How much is it worth?”
Calinthe is an asexual dragonfly-person who was sent on a mission to find two missing men. She learns one of the men is from a species thought to be extinct, who had the misfortune of being captured in a matriarchal society where all non-women are enslaved. Though she maintains a disguise with help from her companion’s illusions, Calinthe is actually intersex. If her secret were to be discovered by the matriarchy, she would be enslaved as well.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is a standalone epic rainbow fantasy novel featuring aroace friendships, a religion that forbids money, clever use of magic, and a fantastical world inhabited by nonhumans. It is the first book in the Merchants of the Pentagonal Dominion trilogy, three standalones which take place concurrently in the same world, but which can be read in any order.
Rating: Smooth, fluid writing, very easy to read; Interesting, realistic characters; Extravagant world;
The First Review:
I am writing this review as part of the Escapist Book Tours Blog Tour for Merchants of Knowledge and Magic. I received a free eARC of Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, which has in no way affected my review or rating.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is written in the voice of Calinthe, an educated, arrogant Merchant of Knowledge and a Volkhv of the Mind Spirit, Lucognidus. The narrative flows very smoothly and I found it supremely easy to read, one of the easiest-to-read books I’ve ever read. I hardly noticed the length of the book.
Calinthe narrates like she’s educated, and like she is arrogant, about knowledge, about her religion and her place as a Volkhv – something like a priest – and her self-image.
Calinthe’s companion is Zakuro, a four-armed Merchant of Magic and a Godblood, granddaughter to three gods: Lucognidus, the Mind Spirit Calinthe worships, the Death Spirit Sawyer, and the Water Spirit Liqua, giving her powers from all of them, as well as a requirement to follow all of their laws to keep the blessings of the gods. While many Godbloods in the Pentagonal Dominion, due to their descent and powers, have a great deal of prestige and some level of arrogance or expectations, or at least confidence, to go with it, Zakuro is lacking in self-confidence, believing herself to be stupid, and having a difficult time understanding she is of value.
Zakuro is absolutely in love with Calinthe, whom both of them believe to be the smart one, and while she feels that it is absolutely wonderful to be accepted as a companion and partner by Calinthe, she feels that their relationship isn’t mutual, and to some degree, it isn’t. Calinthe does not experience any sexual or romantic attraction, though she values Zakuro deeply as a friend and companion, something that Zakuro is not very good at understanding. Some of this is due to Zakuro’s traumatic childhood, but some of it is due to Calinthe’s arrogance and sometimes abrasiveness, and to the fact that Calinthe is bad at expressing her emotions, however deeply she feels them, so she’s not good at making Zakuro feel cared about and valuable, even when she tries. Because, she can be callous. At the same time, Zakuro’s deep insecurities prevent her from opening up to Calinthe and sharing her fears and concerns and how Calinthe’s actions make her feel, and sometimes she resorts to deceptions and manipulations of her own out of her need not to be cast aside or concerned that Calinthe will cast her aside for her stupidity.
The character development never seems external; Calinthe and all the people with whom her life intersects feel like they are genuine, real people, consistent within themselves (kind of like a fantasy world should be internally consistent – this one is – but is not usually consistent with the observed rules of this world), though of course we see this most with Calinthe as it is her internal narration we are invited into. I have to say, that was what made this story sing for me: how well the characters are developed, not in the sense of changing – some of them we don’t get to see change – but in the sense of being themselves. Feeling like real people, who act and think because that’s how they would act and think, not because it’s what someone else thinks makes sense, or fits the plot, or anything else. But for those for whom elaborate, fantastic, and very neatly defined world-building really makes a story, this is the perfect book. There’s a lot of the world we don’t get to see, simply because the Pentagonal Dominion is pretty large and it is all new, imagined, made-up, with a full eighty-eight species with humanesque intelligence, not counting demons or hybrids. Almost every plant and animal is unique to the Pentagonal Dominion, from wagon beetles to glowlight lotuses to Cherish Cherries. However, if one wants a world that sings of the mysterious and incomprehensible, fathomable only to the emotions or through poetry, the Pentagonal Dominion isn’t the world for you: the Pentagonal Dominion has lots of wonders and impossible (to us) things, like the Derion whose hands detach from their bodies and hover up to do whatever the Derion want them to, with the full strength of the Derion behind them, and the people who live in the Pentagonal Dominion might not understand how everything works yet, but that is a yet. The world has a very neat, ordered feel to it; it appears that everything can be categorized and understood with logic and a scientific approach, within the Pentagonal Dominion itself.
However, if you’re looking for a book that has the complexities of an adult novel, in a world populated by creatures that look like they come out of a fairy tale or a kid’s book, with the same sorts of powers and abilities that would happen in such a book, with both a lot of light moments and discoveries and flawed, struggling characters who have a heart-breaking story that has some pretty horrible and even gory moments to it, then this is a book for you. I skimmed over some of the darker, more horrible parts, and even so, it was enough to make the proverbial skin crawl. It’s not primarily physical torture and gore; there’s a lot of nasty psychological and mental abuse, as well as sexual stuff, and it’s not distant: it’s very close, communicated through and in the character. So it’s not a light read at all. But most of that is concentrated near the end of the book, so if you really want to read the book for everything else it has but you don’t want to read very much of that, as long as you can handle a little bit and you don’t have a hard time stopping reading when things get darker than you are comfortable with, it is possible to read the rest of the book and get very little – not none; there are allusions to some horrible things and one scene I found pretty skin-crawling earlier, but it’s not constant horror. And then you can just stop around Calinthe’s second meeting with Kamiko. Or you can read the last few pages of the book to find out how it ends. Again, that won’t make it anything like a children’s book, but if it will spare you the worst of it.
Let me also mention that I love that cover! It’s a very unique and beautiful style, with so much awesome detail!
We also have a guest post from Erika McCorklie, aka Kira of the Wind, talking about what it was like for her writing some of the characters in Merchants of Knowledge and Magic. First, let’s introduce you to Erika.
Erika McCorkle is an author, avid world-builder, and consumer of all things fantasy, whether that be books, video games, or anime. Her debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, will be available on April 8th, 2022, from Shadow Spark Publishing. You can find her on Twitter @KiraoftheWind1, instagram @kira_of_the_wind, and TikTok as kiraofthewind. Her website is at www.authormccorkle.com
Tell us a bit about Calinthe and Zakuro’s relationship, what it was like for you writing that. Feel free to take it whatever direction you want.
My goal when writing them was to create a scenario where sex and romance would not enter the picture. I’m aroace toward real people, though I find myself attracted to fictional characters. Every story I’ve experienced—be it in a book, anime, video game, movie, what-have-you—has always had an ‘obligatory love interest’ which oftentimes does not need to be in the story. Although most people like romance subplots, I do not, and I wanted to write a story without one.
Moreover, Calinthe and Zakuro are actually bad for each other. It’s a pretty toxic codependent relationship that likely wouldn’t last if they didn’t need each other. I think it’s a relationship dynamic that you don’t see in epic fantasy very often. Usually teammates have squabbles, but it’s easily patched up. Or everyone in the party gets along just fine. On the outside, Calinthe and Zakuro may seem to be ‘just fine’, but when you realize both of them are deceiving the other, you can see the cracks in the relationship. How long until it breaks? How many cracks can a ship endure before it sinks? (And yes, that is a pun on ‘shipping’ as in ‘relationshipping’). So how was it for me? A little bit painful, knowing that I’m writing deceptive, flawed, and honestly pretty shitty ‘heroes.’ But it’s what this genre needs. We need more portrayals of real relationships where they stick together because they’d be screwed otherwise. We need more portrayals of characters suffering because they want the world to think everything is alright even while their hearts know it can’t last. And in fantasy in particular, we need more portrayals of characters doing utterly terrible things with magic to ensure their partners ‘stay with them.’ In fantasy, it seems like heroes are only allowed to use magic if it helps someone else or hurts the antagonist. Heroes use magic to heal, light up a dark cave, create rain in a drought, or throw fireballs at their enemies. I wanted to see more heroes using magic to trick and deceive others—even their own allies—when they think there’s no other way to solve a problem. It’s not necessarily what a hero would do, but it’s what many real people would do.
Could you also share a bit about Païvi, and how her part in the story came to be. How you felt about her and writing her story.
I had originally intended on Païvi being prevalent throughout the novel. She was going to be a third companion who traveled everywhere with Calinthe and Zakuro. However, around the time I got to the chapters where they first go to Williford’s castle, I realized it would be best if she stayed there. Having three characters on the journey would make for more crowded scenes. I would have had to shoehorn dialogue for her so she wouldn’t seem left out. There are a handful of scenes where Calinthe and Zakuro had private one-on-one conversations, and having a third person there would have made it awkward. So in short, Païvi was always part of the story, but her role was dramatically reduced so Calinthe and Zakuro could shine.
As for the story she does have now, it was difficult. Since we don’t see into her PoV (and she doesn’t share her most private thoughts with Calinthe), it was a struggle sometimes to get across to the reader what Païvi really wanted. She comes from a society where gender politics are complicated and failure to ‘conform’ to their standard leads to intense bullying. On one hand, she wants to change it. On the other hand, she has strong feelings about forcing people to change their minds (something which Williford offered to do… and she refused). Some readers have called her naïve because she did not forcibly change the opinions of her bullies, and I can see their point. But if she had? She would be literally brainwashing people instead. So what’s better? To be naïve or to brainwash people to see things your way? Ultimately, the opinion is left to the reader.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Erika. I really enjoyed learning a bit more about Calinthe and Zakuro, and Païvi, too. Personally, I would go with Païvi’s way. And here is some fan art of Païvi I made a while ago.
Prize: An eBook or Signed Paperback of Merchants of Knowledge and Magic!
Starts: April 7th, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: April 13th, 2022 at 11:59pm EST