If Olivie Blake's "The Atlas Six" seduced you with its library of ancient secrets, if you swooned over Deborah Harkness' enchanted manuscript in "A Discovery of Witches," then let me introduce you to Minnesota author Emma Törzs' "Ink Blood Sister Scribe," an enthralling fantasy debut about magic and books.
Törzs' spellbinding story (literally, read on) is about half-sisters Joanna and Esther Kalotay and their family's hidden collection of supernatural books, a collection so powerful that the sisters were separated from each other to protect themselves and the books. Or, at least, that's what they'd been led to believe.
In Törzs' cleverly imagined world, magic can be "channeled through certain books." Some people can "hear magic" resonating from their pages. Others, like Esther, cannot. She has other mad skills.
These spellbound books can be activated when the pages "greedily swallow" magical blood or when the books are inked using the enchanted blood of a scribe. These spells (absorbing in their descriptive detail) can create everything from small charms that turn water into wine or open up staircases in walls, to a serious bloodline spell which ensures that magical knowledge is "passed down instead of being lost among a scattered, disconnected populace." And in that spell lies the crux of the conspiracy at the story's core.
Törzs' book begins with Joanna reading ominous words in her father Abe's hastily scribbled death note: "I'm sorry. ... Keep this book safe and away from your blood." Joanna attempts to understand the power of the deadly codex that drained their father's life while Esther's existence on a research base in Antarctica, where's she's been hiding, is jeopardized. She's forced to return to her sister. Soon Esther and Joanna discover they've been wrong about everything.
The thing is, you can't keep good books locked away forever, especially not magical ones. Someone always wants to harness their enchantments for personal, political or financial gain.
Those enchantments hound a scribe named Nicholas. The heir of an ancient European family, he's trapped in London in his own literary hell of "simmering cauldrons" and "cramping fingers" as he inks "distasteful books" with no "artistry to them" for a high fee. The cost is killing him.
In her author's note, Törzs explains that she wrote "Ink Blood Sister Scribe" to rekindle her feeling when stepping into a bookstore as a child, "full of longing and belief, certain that somewhere in the maze of shelves was a book of spells and secrets, danger and adventure."
The story between these pages is that book. It's magic.
Carole E. Barrowman teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee.
Ink Blood Sister Scribe
By: Emma Törzs.
Publisher: William Morrow, 416 pages, $30.
Event: Launch party, 6 p.m., June 1, Moon Palace Books, Mpls. Masks required.