Chirstopher Kellen’s fantasy novels are set in a dark world with a lot of corrupted magic and precious few heroes. The second book in Kellen’s “primary” series, The Arbiter Codex, introduced Edar Moncrief, a character so hilarious and compelling that he eclipsed the main characters and stole the show whenever he made an appearance. Through some combination of intuition, pressure from fans, and falling in love with the character, Kellen decided to give Moncrief his own series of novellas, and I’m glad he did. The Elements of Sorcery complements and at the same time far outstrips The Arbiter Codex, and it’s definitely worth picking up.
Moncrief is a self-serving, sniveling sorcerer, constantly looking for a new angle that will make him more powerful. When chance brings him into contact with an ancient order of Arbiters — sword-wielding magic monks tasked with protecting the world from corruption — Moncrief’s ambition get’s him into hot water and changes his life forever. Over the span of the five novellas, we see Moncrief wax and wane in power, sometimes rising to amazing heights only to fall prey to his own hubris. Through all his trials, Edar is interesting, sympathetic, and always funny, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about him.
I had a couple of quibbles with the Elements. I felt there wasn’t enough foreshadowing in one respect: At times Moncrief seems to be acting out of character or against his own best interests, which left me thinking that he wasn’t the selfish coward I knew and loved. Kellen settles these perceived inconsistencies in a satisfactory and interesting manner at the end of the story, but the fact that the revelation came so late meant that for the first 4/5 of the book I was occasionally confused by his actions. Additionally, while the quality of most of the stories was consistently excellent, I found “Sorcerer’s War” to be disappointingly predictable. Then again, “Sorcerer’s War” did have a tough act to follow – the story preceding it was the straight-up fantastic “Sorcerer’s Blood.”
But any tiny issues I had burn away in the presence of Edar Moncrief, an amazingly fun character that will have you laughing and inspired at alternate points. Moncrief not only carries The Arbiter Codex in a supporting role, but now shows that he makes for a great protagonist. If you’ve read Kellen’s work, you’re probably already a Moncrief fan. If you haven’t read Kellen, start now, and start with The Elements of Sorcery. You can get it here.