Rating: 4.75 stars
Wick tells the tale of four wielders of magic or wicks. Swordwick concerns a royal swordwick who must lie about his abilities as he accompanies his sister to an arranged marriage. Oddwick presents us with a tatterdemalion of a wick, a brilliant eccentric who has locked himself away with his research and books until a gorgeous Captain comes knocking. Songwick introduces us to Lyrawick, a rare wick still carrying the physical and emotion scars of his childhood, locked in bitterness until a child in need forces him to face his past. And finally, Flamewick, the story of a powerful flamewick with a secret agenda until he is attacked and those precious to him, kidnapped. To save them, he will need the help of all the wicks to defeat his enemy and ensure the safety of all around him.
Once again Megan Derr conjures up a fantastical world and populates it with people and creatures of unimaginable beauty, anguished pasts, and magical traits galore and makes it all seem so very real. In Wick, the title is never fully explained and it is up to the reader to define it for themselves. People who are wicks come into their magical abilities at various stages in their life. The earlier their talent is discovered, the more powerful wick they will become. I took the name to be a derivative of magic or wiccan but I could be wrong and perhaps it is explained in a Derr book I haven’t read. As a person or child is discovered to be a wick, then that appellation is added to their name, so Prince Hollis became Holliwick, Toki becamse Tokiwick and so on. A wick usually has just one area of magic to work with but occasionally a wick shows up with the talent for more than just one type of magic, say wind and frost. The swordwicks are looked down upon, they are both warrior and wick. Somewhere in the past, a royal battle raged with one side deploying an army of swordwicks. That battle turned swordwicks from honorable warriors into mercenaries who travel hiring out their talents to those who would pay them. For some families to have children with swordwick abilities is an embarrassment and shame upon their name. The wicks are trained at a central Grand Academy of Rothwick from childhood on and must conjure up a familiar as to cement their magical status. These are the basics for all four stories, each linked to each other by characters related by lineage or linked by events to each other.
Swordwick starts off the saga with the story of Hollowick and Prince Fenwick and their unicorn familiars, Pence and Diamond. Right off, let me say the familiars, paired up with their wicks, are as much central characters as everyone else in the stories. They have as much individuality as the wicks themselves. Pence and Diamond happen to be unicorn familiars and definitely have little to do with innocence and purity as a more humorously perverse pair cannot be found, to my utter enjoyment. Hollowick’s family is ashamed that he is a swordwick and forbade him to tell anyone of his abilities. Unfortunately, he is accompanying his sister, Willa, to her arranged marriage to the King of Draius, someone she has never met. That King just so happens to have a wick as a brother. And Prince Fenwick? His familiar is a unicorn just like Hollowick’s. And all their voices can be heard by Hollowick in his head. So not only is he lying but eavesdropping as well. The story is told from Hollowick’s POV so you feel his shame and pain over the role he has been forced into by his family. And once the men become friends mutually attracted to one another, his deception is compounded by his fear of discovery and the anticipated reactions of all around him.
Oddly enough, Swordwick is the story with characters, while endearing, have the least complexity to them. Both men seems straightforward in their approach to honor and are equal in social status. I enjoyed the story and felt that it did a great job in laying down the foundation for all the rest of the stories that follow without having its own well of pain and angst to draw from. Hollowick has a lesser status in his family, that’s true and his parents are cold emotionally. But the angst he feels here is caused by his own lies, even if ordered to do so and Prince Fenwick’s reaction to its discovery. In terms of painting, it is a lovely watercolor, lacking the depth and richness of the stories that follow.
Oddwick starts our journey into stories with deeper emotional layers. Master Tokiwick, who makes a brief appearance in Swordwick, comes full center here along with his familiar, a tiny dragon called Harlequin whose quixotic nature and flashing kaleidoscope eyes put him on equal level with Tokiwick in this reader’s affections. Tokiwick, a charmwick, has retreated to a house deep in the woods where he lives surrounded by books, occupied by research into wick abilities and the nature of familiars. He is this world’s idea of nerd, socially inept, living in clutter with an appearance to match. When his friend, Hollowick, needs a magical tome translated, he sends for Tokiwick and provides for an escort in the person of Captain Roswick. This is the story of their relationship which is gentle and hesitant in its unfolding as two uncommunicative men struggle to come together. Thank goodness for their familiars, Harle with his inquisitive need to touch everything and Waltz, the black wolf with a wicked sense of humor who is Roswick’s companion. I loved both familiars with their patience, quiet urging, and good advice that finally brings their men together. More of the history of the Academy comes to light as well as Tokiwick’s relationship with his brother, Creawick, the Flamewick of the last story. Here we learn of a new Academy that the Princes wish to establish and the darkness of the past histories of the wicks starts to unfold. I loved this story in every way. It’s lighthearted but the complex overtones are coming into play as a layer of oil paint is applied across the canvas of Wick, adding textures to the whole.
Songwick brings the darkness that has only been hinted at into the forefront of the tale of Lyrawick and Wenwick. Wenwick, introduced in Oddwick, is a Master Professor now residing and teaching at Draius’ new Academy. He was Lyrawick’s mentor at one time. Lyrawick is a rare songwick taken from his family at the age of 5 and turned over to the Grand Academy of Lothwick to be secretly tortured and abused until he reached his full ability and came of age. The story opens as a bitter, somewhat hollow hearted Lyrawick has decided to take a year’s sabbatical from his teaching position at the Grand Academy where he has lived almost his entire life. But that plan is abandoned as his only friend, Creawick, has sabotaged the Academy’s plan to take another rare songwick away from her parents. He fears the girl will suffer the same fate as Lyrawick and others so the wicks intervene and Lyrawick flees with the girl to Drais and the new Academy now established there. Prior acquaintances bring old hurts out to be examined for several of the characters we have already met and our perceptions of all involved change and evolve.
With the last two stories, all lightness vanishes as the torture of innocents and the abuse of power become the driving themes behind Lyrawick and Flamewick. Two men, thought to be villains in previous stories, are shown from a different perspective. Flamewick is the final, most densely layered tale of the bunch and my favorite. Creawick is a man who most dislike, a man of passion and flashing emotions as befits a flamewick with a griffon called Brightheart as his only companion. He is central figure in many of the convoluted relationships between the wicks. While hated by most, his tortured past is slowly revealed by two wicks. One is his friend, Lyrawick from the penultimate story. The second person is Elawick, the healer who had to attend to him in Songwick. From their standpoint, Creawick is totally different from the man we had seen up until now. It is through an attack on Creawick and those he cares for that brings about the final confrontation between the evil from their pasts and the group of wicks that has now banded together. From plot to characterizations, everything is on point. Now we have an oil painting of a story comprised of rich colors, dramatic brush marks, balanced in composition, a feast for the eyes in every way. Just an outstanding story full of characters I won’t soon forget just as an oil has a much longer life than the watercolor, how ever fair it may be.
We see how true heroic natures can be hidden behind walls of pain and a twist of reference turn a memory on its head. Songwick and Flamewick are my clear favorites here. Brooding, dark, full of angst, revenge and redemption. But it is Swordwick and Oddwick which lured us in and kept us occupied until the other two could take over. Here we have Dawn before Nightfall to my amazement and joy. Yours too if you pick up this book.
Cover: Lainey Durand designed the simple elegant cover that works so well here.