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Rotten Magic

by Jeffrey Bardwell

Rotten Magic - Jeffrey Bardwell - The Artifice Mage Saga
Part of the The Artifice Mage Saga series:
  • Rotten Magic

Destiny in one hand. Doom in the other. Which will destroy him first?

Artificers are the gilded princes of the Iron Empire. Mages are violent criminal outcasts. Devin competes to become the best artificer in the empire . . . but he's secretly a mage.

Devin, a young skilled apprentice, dreams of becoming the master of his craft if he can only resist the sinuous allure of magic. His secret grows heavier as he claws his way to the top of his competitive, cutthroat guild. Friends and rivals start taking notice when Devin glorifies in the persona of the dragon and builds mechanical armor to match. He's also started hearing voices in his head: the stout words of the being he calls 'the artificer' and the sly, oily voice of 'the mage.' How long can Devin be satisfied with fake dragon armor when the promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Embark on Devin's dark, epic journey in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

Tropes: Antihero, Becoming a Monster, Fallen Hero, Humanity is Dangerous, Mad Scientist, Powerful Artifact
Word Count: 100000
Setting: The Metal vs Magic Universe
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters

I've a list of names, and I'm making certain your friend is at the top,” Higgins said, breaking my reverie. “Devin. A name I shall not forget again. Another three barrels of oil just went missing yesterday, by the gods' greasy fingers. When I catch him . . .” He clenched his fists.

I mentally added my name to the list and gave Higgins a slight bow. “Rumors are not proof, sir. I will warn all my friends that your office is inviolate—”


Higgins stopped me with a dismissive wave. “Every journeyman's office is inviolate, by the gods. Just make certain they all stay away from mine. Blasted apprentices. Likely using my precious lamp oil to make paper dragons and brass sparklers. Forget the commendation. Be gone with you.”

I nodded and left. The door latched with a merry click and I promised the simple locking mechanism I would visit again soon. Three barrels of dragon oil? I mused. What did Devin want with three barrels of dragon oil? It's finicky, volatile stuff. Not unlike a certain apprentice I know.

I spared a thought for the dragons. Oil drums, rotgut, and broken bits were all anyone in the empire ever saw of the beasts that graced our banners. Paper dragons were a toy to frighten children. Only Dragon Boy had any reverence left. And now he had a stockpile of raw, undistilled dragon juice. No, he built that suit for reverence. The oil was for some darker, more sinister purpose.

I pursed my lips as I absently waved to a few friends gossiping by the doors and I left the hall. I nodded to the lampers who called my name as I walked down the streets. Dragon oil and mages. What's the connection? Devin's stolen enough oil to burn the entire

Around the corner, a giant gout of flames roared into the hazy orange sky. I ran towards the fire and my thoughts raced ahead of me. Devin, what did you do?

Reviews:Erin on The Wood Between the Worlds wrote:

What I have to say:
I don't usually talk about my own writing on here, but I'm gong to make a brief exception right now.

It took me a few years to realize how my writing process works. It's like this:

1. Write a book.
2. Read through it and make a few edits.
3. Decide it's probably the next great American novel.
4. Wait several months.
5. Read it again.
6. Realize it needs a complete rewrite.

As such, it's easy for me to understand why author Jeffrey Bardwell has rewritten Rotten Magic twice (well, at least twice, as far as I know).

I'm also happy to say that this third (and, as he tells me, final) incarnation of Devin's story is not only the best yet, but a more complete, satisfying story than either of the previous two versions.

First of all, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that the story starts in Devin's village before he gets accepted into the Artificer's Guild. He's still a poor, innocent country boy with stars in his eyes. Reading the first few chapters of the story, I just kept thinking, "Yes! Yes! Yes! This is where Devin's story starts."'

It's soooo much more interesting and satisfying to start here when he's an ignorant young bumpkin who wants nothing more than to study at the Artificer's Guild. He's never seen the Iron City: he has no idea what he's in store for, or what the Artificer's Guild is really like.

It gives the tragedy that follows (in this book and the sequels) so much more weight. And it makes Devin's character arc so much more compelling.

I equally loved getting to see Devin's first encounter with Drusilla, Benny, and all the other students. The first two Rotten Magics started with Devin already in his last year of apprenticeship--at which point he'd been living in the Iron City for a few years and was already enmeshed in the tangled web of the Artificer's Guild, with Benny as his nemesis and Drusilla as his best friend.

In those other two drafts, I never realized what I was missing. It's so fun to see these relationships take shape. It's so fascinating to see Devin transform from his first to final year as an Artificer.

For anyone who hasn't had the benefit of seeing this story slowly take shape (and it's been so interesting to see), I'll stop talking about the changes and just dive into the story itself.

Magic. Steampunk. Characters so complex you cheer for them one moment and cringe for them the next. You love them, hate what they're doing, and find the whole thing so utterly fascinating you can't look away from the impending train wreck. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE HERE? THIS IS EVERYTHING I WANT IN A BOOK.

Devin is such a fascinating character, and perhaps equally fascinating is Drusilla. Though I'm still perplexed by her actions in the final chapter (how does she think turning Devin over to the Black Guards is going to free him?), I so love Drusilla's character and her inner monologues:

And of course you're only doing this for Devin's sake, I told myself. Because his behavior has grown so bizarre, his inventions so dangerous. Not from any sense of jealousy? Not because never in your craziest dreams could you have imagined such an awesome flame-throwing device? And you, the lamper's daughter, no less!

As for Devin himself, he's your ultimate troubled hero. I love the boy to death and want nothing more than for him to succeed. But from the moment he first kindles a fire from his fingertips--not even a fire, really, just a faint, fleeting warmth--you know where this is all headed.

Oh, did I mention? Magic is forbidden in the Iron Empire. Devin's not only a crazy brilliant artificer--he's secretly a mage.

Also, he's unstable as heck. Is it something to do with the magic? Does magic make a person unstable? Dangerous? Is Devin really--like the mages on all those propaganda posters--a monster?

I love it, I'm here for all of it--even the train wreck at the end.

And writing this, the spirit of my former English major (writing her senior thesis on Frankenstein adaptations) just resurfaced. Because what screams Frankenstein's monster like a troubled boy--cast out by his fellows and denied fellowship until he's desperate--igniting a room full of innocent bystanders (well, admittedly, they are Black Guards who are probably going to arrest him, but still....)?

Whenever the Artificer's Guild students play Knights and Dragons--a bit like Capture the Flag, but the Flag is the Dragon and once you find him, well let's just say it's a bit more violent than Capture the Flag--Devin is ALWAYS the Dragon. Dragon Boy. That's his nickname. Why not just call him a monster and have done with it?

But somehow, like Frankenstein's monster, Devin may be the least monstrous of them all. He's so innocent. And yet--he's anything but innocent. It's complex, it's fascinating, it's beautiful. It's Rotten Magic 3.0.

This is where I break into applause.

Rating: *****

About the Author

Jeffrey Bardwell writes epic fantasy with elements of darkness, steampunk, and romance set in the Metal vs. Magic Universe. His character-driven books are guaranteed to include gritty realism, political intrigue, lurid entanglements, dry wit, and dragons in differing proportions. He devours fantasy and science fiction novels and is most comfortable basking near a warm wood stove. When not writing, Jeffrey enjoys cooking, gardening, and shooing baby dragons from the compost bin.

The author lives on a farm and in a prior life worked as a community ecologist. He is overfond of puns and alliterations. He is also an unabashed history and mythology enthusiast. You can discover more about Jeffrey and his fantasy universe here:

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