Ship of Smoke and Steel: book one of The Wells of Sorcery

  • Posted on: 27 September 2019
  • By: Sevhina

The author of the gunpowder fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns is back and his new series is about a few hundred magic gifted teenagers stuck in an ancient ship with a wide variety of monsters that want to eat them. The kids were all offered to the ship as "tribute", including Isoka who's government told her to bring the ghost ship back within the year for their use or they would throw her sister into a brothel. Even though Isoka is an adept who's magic comes from Melos, the Well of Combat, she has little hope of conquering a bazaar ship and its unknown crew. Her magic has always made her the deadliest in a fight, but now she is one of the least experienced fighters in a brutal fight for survival. No one knows where the ship came from, why the captain wants the mage born in the first place, or what the captain plans for the future.....if they have a future.

Once again a book is labeled "young adult" simply because the characters are teenagers. Ship of Smoke and Steel has the feel of the dystopian genre although the world hasn't suffered any catastrophies. The ship itself is a mind boggling derelict centuries old and unbelievably huge. From one end to the other is a journey several days long and there are several levels. A wide variety of crustacean inspired monsters provide a dangerous source of food. The captain appears to pay little attention to the feudal society the kids have created and its widely believed they are only there so the ship can absorb their magic when they die. The longest time any of the kids has lived on the ship is still only a few years and according to him the captain had exterminated everyone before his group came aboard for some unknown reason. 

Until she was sent as tribute Isoka had believed the legendary ghost ship was only a myth. Naturally she manages to antagonize the officer assigning jobs when she arrives on board so she ends up trying to keep a small group of misfits alive while she finds out all she can about the ship and its captain. For Isoka it is literally a ghost ship, and the most recent man she killed is telling her to go to the Garden, a safe haven rumored to be at the far end of the ship although no one has ever been there and back. At first she believes the ghost to be a dream but as she finds out more about the ship she realizes that its not the captain that killed everyone but something they can't fight, and only the Garden might protect them.

One of the interesting factors at play in the book is that Adepts who access the Well of Healing are put to death in every culture. I can think of only one other book in which healing was so warped and that was set in Ravenloft. Here healers can't control their magic and they might heal you, give you a tumor, or create a super plague that wipes out an entire nation. Hence why only those with the most minor talents are allowed to live and only the desperate seek their help.

Catherine Ho narrates the Audible book where it has 4.5 stars.

Django Wexler has also written The Shadow Campaigns series that began with The Thousand Names in 2013 which I've already reviewed. He also writes The Forbidden Library, a young adult series. Book two in the Wells of Sorcery, City of Stone and Silence will be out in Jan 2020.