The Bridge to Magic
by Alex Thornbury
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Print Length: 392 pages
Publisher: Shadow Lore Publishing
Reviewed by Timothy Thomas
An intriguing YA fantasy featuring harsh magic, a brutal world, and a tenacious hero
In many fantasy stories, magic is assumed to be a force that reflects humanity itself: wielded by a few adepts for their own purposes, and therefore likely to be benevolent, cheerful, or amusing. The first book in Alex Thornbury’s Sundered Web series does something different and surprising.
In the realm of Seramight, magic has long sought to hurt humans. It operates mostly on its own, controlled by an elite few called tsaren. The magic, along with the tsaren, were exiled. Now the magic beckons desperate people in the city of Terren across a bridge into a complete unknown, a fate that might be worse than death.
The Bridge to Magic follows 15-year-old Elika, an orphan who has survived against the odds in a frozen, starving world wrecked by Blight. Here, people who are suspected of channeling “Echoes” of the old magic (through no fault of their own) are purged as witches. It’s a rough town, where babies are left to die of exposure, a pickpocket named Fast Flint wears his own severed finger as a protective charm around his neck, and ordinary people try to stave off magic with a mixture of blood and salt.
Elika might be the chosen one. She has the “mark of a burning butterfly” on her back, and she seems to belong to the bridge itself. She wants to learn where she came from, who she is, and what she can do. “Each day the blood-salt was harder to drink and hold down,” and she feels “magic reassert its clasp on her pitiful soul.” Her power grows. She wants to help people, but she doesn’t know how. The humanitarian need is too great. It’s all tragic. And her power might bounce back to cause more damage.
The Bridge to Magic is an introspective novel that focuses on Elika’s personal quest. She doesn’t know her destiny and must decide which dimension of reality to pursue. Some paths might lead to obliteration. It’s a “to be or not to be?” question. The answer may depend on cracking open old assumptions. What if things are not what they seem?
This feels like a thought-provoking parable of ecological and civilizational collapse, that which we grapple with today. Thornbury delivers this tale with gravity and sensitivity. Within what might appear to be a simple framework of life and death, good and evil, our attention is drawn to how difficult it is to ever know for certain what is happening and what we can do about it. The language is repetitive in a meditative way, like the “surfacing of some deep, innate knowledge” that sends “the stark resonation of the truth” through Elika until she’s ready to see and accept it. As one metaphysical system is explained to us, we are gradually readied to see an alternate explanation for suffering and evil.
The moral stakes of this world are fully planted in this first book, so I’m intrigued to find out how the collective knowledge of the people of Terren continues to evolve.
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