Ben Galley’s first book, The Written, shows a lot of promise. The fantasy world is partly based on Norse mythology and language and features dragons (or wyrms), vampyres, lycans and mages – it does not, however, read like a mish-mash of different myths but as a convincing alternative world. The story is one of betrayal and intrigue, beginning with the murder of several scholars by a mysterious stranger over a powerful spellbook. Our protagonist, Farden, must discover the origins of this book in order to uncover the murderer’s plan. Some suspicious goings-on in the government also suggest that someone high in the hierarchy is not who he or she seems. To make matters worse, Farden struggles with dark impulses rooted in his magical ability, uses illegal drugs to deal with the stress, which makes for drama amidst the action of the quest.
The Written is, unsurprisingly given the title, part of a trend in fantasy literature to make the written word magical – the ‘Written’ refers to a group of mages who have a magical Book tattooed on their backs and their power comes from the words inscribed. The system of magic is pretty nifty; the kind of ‘book’ written on a mage’s back determines the powers they can have. Moreover, there are other ways to access magic – through spellbooks, the activation of magical portals, not to mention that the world is full of magical creatures.
While I’ve commended the book overall, the writing is by turns innovative and clichéd, and the combination makes for a slightly awkward read. My hope is that this is only the awkwardness of a new author, that Galley will gain confidence in the more innovative aspects of his style in later books, or in future series.