Book Review: Effigest (Tales of the Outlaw Mages) by Amy Campbell

Effigest

Series: Tales of the Outlaw Mages, #2

Author: Amy Campbell

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

When the sins of the past demand payment, his magic is the price.

Blaise Hawthorne never wanted to hurt anyone, and he certainly didn’t want to become a weapon. When using his dangerous magic to free his outlaw friends destroys an enemy fortress, the young mage is imprisoned for his crimes. Abused and at the mercy of his tormenters, Blaise’s only ally is a duplicitous man he’s not sure he can trust.

After escaping his cruel upbringing, politician Malcolm Wells had everything-or so he thought. He didn’t count on falling for Breaker Blaise Hawthorne. And it’s all his fault that Blaise has been captured as a war criminal. The Breaker is running out of time, and Malcolm’s money, power, and influence have proven useless to win his freedom.

When a magic-slinging outlaw storms into town, Malcolm seizes the opportunity to form an uneasy alliance. The pair hatch a bold gambit to free Blaise, but their enemy is one step ahead. At the mercy of Malcolm’s dark past, everything they fought for unravels. All the magic in the world may not be enough to save any of them from the nightmare to come.

Rating: Real, complex characters, heart-wrenching events and love story

The First Review:

I really enjoyed Effigest, even more than I enjoyed Breaker, though that may be mostly because Breaker is incomplete in itself, while Effigest is a much more complete story. I hate cliff-hangers when I enjoyed the novel and I can’t read the next one yet, and while Breaker ends on something of a cliff-hanger, Effigest does not.

As always, the pegasi are cute and heart-warming, with loads of personality. They’re so easy to imagine – Emrys, Zepheus, Oberidon. I love Emrys’ loyalty to Blaise and the friendship between those two. They are almost snuggly. Emrys is the best, and there are some ridiculously cute scenes with him. Zepheus, Jack’s pegasi friend, is something of a different sort, as is Jack himself. Their relationship is equally cute and heart-warming, but with a little more – sass, perhaps? There’s certainly more conflict, but the turmoil does not conceal the absolute loyalty and friendship of their bond. They’re such a team, and I loved it.

And here’s Emrys being a horse:

Emrys bobbed his head, walking over to a tree and leaning his rump against it, wiggling his hindquarters to scratch an itch. <I like Emmaline. I hope you find her.>

(I like Emmaline, too.)

There’s a whole lot of depth to the story and the relationships. Jefferson/Malcolm is absolutely head-over-heels in love with Blaise, who is a war criminal according to the Salt-Iron Confederation (because he did something Jefferson urged him to do), and a mage, which means in the Salt-Iron Confederation that he is considered nothing more than a tool, less even than an animal. Jefferson is a wealthy businessman and a doyen on the Salt-Iron Council, and has sworn to Blaise that he will fight the entire Salt-Iron Confederation for him. Blaise’s feelings about Jefferson are more reserved and conflicted, as he is asexual and, besides, has a history of being neglected, ostracized and used, not to mention his present situation which consists of being kept in a cell and mis-treated. Their relationship and the tension is presented with a lot of depth and reality, and it is absolutely heart-touching. Eventually, Jefferson is driven, in an attempt to prevent Blaise from being further used and abused, to an act of somewhat questionable ethics, and the way that is handled, between Jefferson, Emrys, Blaise, Jefferson’s friend Flora, and Jack and the way it affects and is affected by their relationships is really well-done and human. There are a lot of ways that Blaise’s personality, drives (or lack thereof) and needs clash with Jefferson’s, and I can’t say I agree with every one of their actions or compromises, but the way they’re presented and dealt with was very genuine and human. I really enjoyed seeing how that played out and the development of their love, and I rooted for both of them. I don’t usually care for romances, and this is one of relatively few romances I’ve enjoyed. I don’t know whether that’s because of the depth and personality of the author’s treatment or if the fact that one of the characters is asexual has something to do with it, as in the other romance I really enjoyed, it was pretty clear that neither character was very asexual.

There’s not a lot of Blaise’s perspective early in the book, and that might be just as well as he’s a captive in the Golden Citadel, but what there is, is so well-done and heart-throbbing.

Wildfire Jack Dewitt is also a sympathetic character. There’s a lot of good in his so-to-speak “half” of the story as well. He sure makes some Perdition-worthy bad decisions, some of which are very sympathetic, some of which are still sympathetic but not really as much so, but there’s a lot of depth to him, and a lot more of his heart shines through. He also ends up in some really terrible spots that wring one’s heart. His wife, Kittie, who he has been looking for, for ages, also appears, and his daughter Emmaline is quite involved in a few things. The way their family situation and issues are dealt with shows a lot of depth and attention as well, and his and Kittie’s relationship is really awesome, too. They’re such a match for each other! They deserve as much of a commentary as Blaise and Jefferson, but I have a feeling I mostly rambled about those two. And did I mention how wonderful the pink-haired half-knocker Flora is? She is one loyal and sympathetic friend to Jefferson, understanding more about love and the affairs of his heart than he could have guessed, and one awesome spy/assassin/thief/bodyguard with a lot of a head in addition to her heart, and one awesome attitude to match!

There’s some really interesting plot and world-building elements as well, and, in my opinion, the author did a veryinteresting presentation and take on the mind-control theme/issue. And I may as well mention the presentation is sometimes very catching:

And second, where was Blaise when he needed the Breaker around to drop a Jack-eating tree on top of Lamar?

And one other thing I love: Blaise is Blaise. No matter how hurt or broken or shattered, Blaise is still Blaise. It’s very well-done and I like how Blaise’s heart never rots.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of Effigest. This has not affected my review.

The Continued Review:

There are a lot of things I glossed over in the first review that I could talk about a bit more, but they’re spoilers – thus, they go here!

To go into more detail about Blaise and Jefferson’s relationship, Jefferson lives a double life and has lied to Blaise. Blaise has figured that out, but Jefferson can’t safely explain himself in the prison wing of the Golden Citadel. A little context for a heart-touching paragraph:

Those words stirred the Breaker from whatever thoughts he’d banished himself to. He lifted his head, his lower lip trembling. Fury rose in Jefferson, and he reined in the inclination to storm out and demand answers. What cruelty put Blaise in such a state? There was a time for that later, when he could play the game from a position of power. For now, he had to do his best for the man who sat before him, shattered.

And here’s a taste of the way Jefferson/Malcolm thinks. I think it’s quite defining.

Jefferson pursed his lips, able to fill in the rest of the unspoken words. I thought you hated me. I thought you had used me after telling me you wouldn’t. Maybe you think I’m less than a person. “No,” he said sharply. “It’s nothing you may think. It’s the rules of your predicament.” Predicament. Yes, that was an apt word. It made it sound like something they could overcome. Jefferson hoped so, at any rate.

And, in his quest to free Blaise, who has become more important to Jefferson than all his other goals, he ends up discussing theater and tragedies with someone who wants to write a play to help. I’m not sure what I think about ‘the secret appeal of tragedies’, but Lizzie’s points are good. Some stories are worth telling, however they appear to end. People matter to someone, even if all that surrounds them is failure.

She offered a demure smile. “A masterfully presented tragedy is an elegy for someone who matters. Whose story is worth telling, even if they never achieve a happy ending or lose it all along the way. Even if they fail, they mattered to someone.”

And I love Jefferson’s response:

He blinked at her provocative description, heart squeezing. Yes, Blaise mattered, but if Malcolm had a say, there would be no tragedy.

But I need to go a little less frequent quoting!

Never mind. This part made me so angry that I’m going to share it anyways. WHO FREAKING CARES ABOUT THE LIVES LOST IN FORT COURAGE! WHAT ABOUT THE LIVES THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN LOST OTHERWISE? WHAT ABOUT THE LIFETIMES OF SLAVERY, ABUSE, AND TORTURE THAT ARE THE LEGACY OF THE SALT-IRON CONFEDERATION FOR MAGES?

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ARGUE WITH LIVES LOST, DON’T LOOK AT BLAISE LIKE IF HE’S THE PROBLEM! And this is supposed to be an ally. ARRGGHH!

Seward nodded. “It’s hard to argue against the lives lost, Malcolm. I think the Breaker should face the consequences of his actions. If we do anything else, we risk looking like we favor mages regardless of their crimes, and that will damage our credibility.”

The Salt-Iron Council eventually decides to bind Blaise with the geasa. Not that it would work for long, since Blaise’s magic would shred the geasa if he actually tried, but Jefferson doesn’t know that and at least isn’t sure enough of it to risk it. So, with the help of his loyal half-knocker friend, Flora, he steals the ingredients and pattern for binding Blaise’s handler to him and goes to a contact to take the tattoo. And, of course, the way the way they make the ink for the geasa-tattoo is absolutely disgusting, involving using the blood of the mage, but of course it would be disgusting.

And here’s one of the most beautiful quotes, from a conversation between Jefferson and Flora about his infatuation with Blaise and his scheme:

“No,” she agreed softly. “But you can’t save everyone.”

Malcolm swallowed, meeting her eyes. “No. Sometimes it’s enough to save one.”

And Flora’s response, questioning if this is really so pure, or if Jefferson wants to use Blaise, is reasonable. And brings it to how this goes: Jefferson and Flora succeed and Jefferson binds to Blaise. But that’s an awfully personal thing to do, even if the geasa – by purpose and intent – weren’t so intrinsically one-sided and abusive, and when Blaise finds out, he is a bit hurt. At the same time, they are brought together. The geasa-bind between them helps with that, but so does the fact that Blaise’s blood in the tattoo turns Jefferson into a mage, the only one of his kind: Dreamer. He’s able to speak to and be with Blaise in his dreams, and he gives Blaise a little solace and comfort in the dreamscape, and there at last they have privacy to talk, but at the time Blaise is hurt by what he did without asking.

But there’s this conversation between Jack and Emrys which puts a whole lot of light on it, too. It’s very complicated, as I said, and very well-done (as so much of the book is):

Jack scratched his head because he sure didn’t. All he saw was greed and abuse of power. “How do you see it?”

Zepheus traded a knowing look with Emrys, bobbing his head as if he had drawn the same conclusion.

<You see it as something like the relationship between a spirit-broken nag and an unkind master. But it is not that. No, he is approaching it like a pegasus and rider. A partnership.> Emrys sounded certain.

Jack frowned, not agreeing with any of that. “But Blaise is being exploited. He doesn’t have a say.”

Emrys shook his ample mane. <You’re wrong. He already made a choice in his heart.>

Eventually, they get Blaise out, and he gets to live with Jefferson and do what he wants, like baking, though they’re sort of under siege. I had slightly mixed feelings about some of the aspects of the development of his relationship with Jefferson, but I’m not sure how I want to put it, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Later, Jack is captured, and this is where what I mentioned in the first review about mind control comes in, as Jack is again bound with the geasa (and it makes one hurt for Jack and the whole situation all around so much). Jack in a way still has his mind: he’s still Jack, with Jack’s personality, Jack’s goals and intentions, Jack’s thoughts, even though he’s being forced to do things – kind of like physical force, but worse. But at the same time, my feelings are a little mixed: he finds partial ways around the geasa/mind control and that’s fine. Most of these ways have to do with how he interprets commands and situations, a bit like lying in a language where one can’t speak falsehoods. I don’t mind that so much in itself, but it seems to be the most common and only way I’ve encountered of people finding ways around or through mind control situations in books, and I don’t like that, as that seems to elevate a certain way of thinking, a certain kind of intelligence, without recognizing the value of others.

All in all, I loved these characters, their interactions and choices and intentions and everything, so much!

Review for Book One: Breaker

Amy’s Website

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