Clayton Clifford Bye
The Sorcerer’s Key
Chase Enterprises 2005
Fantasy is a tough genre for some readers who find it difficult to suspend their disbelief enough to accept magic as a sine qua non of this type of fiction. Once you accept it then the story proceeds as normal, providing of course that you also get the narrative and characters and setting that all good fiction requires. Clayton Bye’s The Sorcerer’s Key certainly has a narrative that draws you on and characters that are believable and distinctive. The young hero of the tale, Jack Lightfoot, has been brought up with a magical heritage while living in a small town in Ontario (coincidentally the author’s hometown of Kenora). He finds himself trailed by a shady character and his previously humdrum life (as humdrum as it can be with clandestine magical training from his parents) gets turned upside down as he gets drawn into conflict with a powerful sorcerer from another world, meets new friends and gains new insights into his abilities.
The author has the gift of weaving a good tale with a sense of immediacy and a confident writing style that comes from writing self-help inspirational books. Though there are a few typos (such as missing pronouns) and the occasional confusing dialogue (where punctuation doesn’t make it clear where one character stops speaking and another begins), Bye has a good command of suspenseful narration: short chapters, snappy exchanges, cliffhangers and a lack of longeurs which all make for a novel that keeps you wanting to read on.
Bye’s preference for organised precepts help make much of the magic in The Sorcerer’s Key consistent. His Three Laws of Magic (related to the triads that self-help books seem to abound in) provide a credible conceptual underpinning to the sorcery Jack encounters. The Key of the title is a clever touch which enables progress from one world to another. And while I’m less convinced by the religious apparatus that helps structure the story, requiring an acceptance of Western ideas of Eden, Hell, angels and so on, at least the author has given them all a spin that stops the religion tipping into religiosity.
Certainly at times there is a touch of Lovecraft-type horror which runs counter to any moral message that the references to Eden might suggest. At other times character motivation and actions were a little opaque; for example, why doesn’t Morgan Heist, Jack’s adversary, search the young man when the latter is captured? How is it that Richard the seer is all-seeing one moment and off his guard the next?
Such few reservations aside, I enjoyed this tale immensely; I liked names like Morgan and Merlin and objects like the Sword to suggest Arthurian associations along with the Biblical references, and Jack Lightfoot’s own name conjured up nursery tale figures like Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant-Killer and the nursery-rhyme Jack of “Jack, be nimble, Jack be quick…”.
And then there’s Technomage — the follow-up title in the ‘From Earth to Eden’ series — which also features the boy himself as well as at least one other adversary of his to look forward to. So, much to enjoy, though for me nothing to get fired up about.