I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor.com (January 11, 2022)
Length: 448 pages
Strange and weird does not even begin to describe this one. I really enjoyed Scotto Moore’s last offering, the novella Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, and thus looked forward to Battle of the Linguist Mages with great excitement. But it appears shorter form may be the author’s forte.
Describing the premise is also going to tough, because I felt the story was only mostly coherent for the first half. The book follows Isobel, who is the self-proclaimed Queen of Sparkle Dungeon, a virtual reality game. She’s great at player her character, a magic user that uses her voice to cast spells, making her the ideal candidate for Sparkle Dungeon’s development team to test a new game.
But during her time testing, Isobel discovers that the agency is actually researching real magic—using “power morphemes” or complex syllables spoken in a certain way that will compel others who hear them to do whatever the caster wants. All this is made possible by extra-terrestrial punctuation marks, and yes, here’s where the story kind of fell apart for me.
With her new powers, though, Isobel rebels against her handlers as she learns more about their dastardly plans. Joined by her predecessor Maddy, they take their fight to the Governor of California herself, a linguist mage planning to use her abilities to turn the country into her own personal empire.
Where do I even begin with this? I suppose the first half of the book was pretty solid. As you could imagine, I was quite intrigued with the gaming angle, and Isobel, being an avid gamer, seemed like my kind of people. A little obsessed with Sparkle Dungeon, to be sure, but I admired her enthusiasm, her confidence, and strong voice.
The ideas in this novel were also interesting and unique. I don’t think anyone could disagree there. A magic system based on vocalization is something I can’t say I’ve come across before, and I enjoyed the way Moore conceptualized it. And then there are the more eccentric elements of the story, and while Battle of the Linguist Mages started to lose me here, there’s no denying it’s all pretty wild.
But unfortunately, that’s really all I can say was positive about my experience with the book. I do think as the ideas got more and more out there, the author started to lose his handle on the plot and the main character’s direction. As the story descended into more madness and surreal territory, my connection to it also started unraveling, and it became difficult to really feel for Isobel or any of the people around her. Gradually they became caricatures, as silly and nonsensical as everything else happening around them.
It’s a humorous novel at its heart, I suppose, but quite honestly, I felt its cleverness and wit had run its course somewhere in the first one hundred pages. I had just enough patience to finish the book, but I’d be lying if I said it was a pleasure or that I wasn’t struggling close to the end.
Overall, if you like your speculative fiction full of crazy and wild ideas, you might have fun with Battle of the Linguist Mages, but personally I would recommend picking up Scotto Moore’s Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You where you can still get your mind blown while having a much more enjoyable and entertaining time. I just think this one went on far longer than it needed to, and the more it went on, the more things fell apart, and ultimately, the story became something that really wasn’t my cup of tea at all.