Book Review: Scribes by James Wolanyk

Scribes 1

Synopsis: Pawns in an endless war, scribes are feared and worshipped, valued and exploited, prized and hunted. But there is only one whose powers can determine the fate of the world . . . 

Born into the ruins of Rzolka’s brutal civil unrest, Anna has never known peace. Here, in her remote village—a wasteland smoldering in the shadows of outlying foreign armies—being imbued with the magic of the scribes has made her future all the more uncertain.

Through intricate carvings of the flesh, scribes can grant temporary invulnerability against enemies to those seeking protection. In an embattled world where child scribes are sold and traded to corrupt leaders, Anna is invaluable. Her scars never fade. The immunity she grants lasts forever.

Taken to a desert metropolis, Anna is promised a life of reverence, wealth, and fame—in exchange for her gifts. She believes she is helping to restore her homeland, creating gods and kings for an immortal army—until she witnesses the hordes slaughtering without reproach, sacking cities, and threatening everything she holds dear. Now, with the help of an enigmatic assassin, Anna must reclaim the power of her scars—before she becomes the unwitting architect of an apocalyptic war.

Author: James Wolanyk

Title: Scribes (The Scribe Cycle, Book 1)

Publisher: Rebel Base Books

Date: 2018

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The synopsis of Scribes caught my attention and I was looking forward to it. It was a disappointment: I couldn’t connect to the world or the characters for the entire book.

It starts well: siblings on the run from trackers. They get caught and the older sister tries to bargain her secret power as a scribe to save her brother. It backfires, the brother gets killed and she ends up taken prisoner by the tracker. I started to get a grip on the characters and what being a scribe meant.

After that?

No idea.

But the living endured the consequences of death. The living dreamt of remains left to rot in marshes. The living felt rage.

One of the main problems was that I didn’t like Anna. She starts off alright; a frightened girl in over her head, struggling to keep a secret. But her refusal to leave Shem forces the boy into a sort-of-slavery, and Anna doesn’t care about the consequences. She uses his awe of her to suit her own purposes, then treats him like a jealous lover, or a tool, for the rest of the book.

Anna enjoys her power. She likes being the chosen one, being considered as a goddess. She thinks it is her right. Of course, there are passages of her lamenting that she can’t control it etc, but apart from refusing to mark a few of the darker characters, she makes no attempt to use her power to help people, or think about the consequences of marking those attempting to wage war on others. She mourns her brother, but never thinks about the destruction she is causing in his name.

It’s always fun when the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are blurry, but in this case, I struggled to identify friend from foe. Anna’s own opinions do not help: she states she hates the tracker but does nothing to escape from him. She thinks negatively about Bora, yet seeks her counsel and advice. It read as if the character relationships progress, but Anna’s thinking doesn’t, leaving the reader muddling their way with no clear idea.

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There are no strong characters: the tracker dissolves into the background, Bora is to abrupt to connect to her, Shem acts as a jealous child and even a supposedly-powerful leader is nothing but a shell by the end.

I also couldn’t figure out the world. There were a lot of fantasy-based names and places, but nothing to ground the reader. I couldn’t figure out the world the characters lived in, meaning I couldn’t connect or envision it.

This is a book about morals, responsibility and power. It is about considering the consequences of actions: what it means for Shem’s family that he is forced to leave, what it means to have violent men forever marked and made invulnerable, what it means to hold the fate of people in your hands. For me, however, Anna never considers those consequences; she acts as she wants and uses her status as a goddess to get away with it.

Unfortunately, for me, the book lacked clarity and a forward momentum.

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