On one of the many planes of the Pentagonal Dominion, priestess Calinthe trades in information, collecting valuable secrets for her demonic employer. Calinthe has a secret of her own: she’s intersex, making her a target for the matriarchal slavers of the Ophidian Plane whose territory she must cross in her search for hidden knowledge. But thanks to her friend Zakuro’s illusions, Calinthe presents as a woman- a comfortable, if furtive, existence in a world determined to bring her to heel.
But when, instead of a mere secret, the priestess uncovers an incalculably powerful artifact, Calinthe finds herself in a high-stakes negotiation with the same matriarchs who sought to enslave her. On the table: Calinthe’s discovery, a charm powerful enough to transform a mortal into a god… against a secret so deadly it could quell all life on every plane of the dominion. If Calinthe plays her cards perfectly, she and Zakuro could escape Ophidia wealthier than either of them ever dreamed possible.
But if she plays them wrong…
…she’ll learn slavery in her pursuers’ hands is a fate far worse than death.
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This review is a part of a book tour for Merchants of Knowledge and Magic. I've been eager to read this book for a while. The author Erica McCorkle is a Twitter friend, and we've discussed writing, characters and world-building a lot. She got me intrigued and fascinated with her world just talking about it!
Trigger / content warnings: slavery, abuse, rape — the subjects are presented as the atrocities they are, so if you're sensitive to them, proceed with caution.
The protagonist and the point of view character is Calinthe — a merchant of knowledge and a volkhv (priestess). She's a rare hybrid, as her parents belong to two different species, which gives her unique traits, such as her dragonfly wings and tail. She's also intersex and seems to be aromantic and asexual. As a merchant of knowledge, she collects and trades secrets, and as a volkhv she's forbidden from using money, so secrets are her only currency.
I found her a compelling character. There was a scene where she mentioned that others saw her as cold and calculating, unable to express emotions, even though her emotional world was rich within. I must admit that I also saw her as cold and calculating, sometimes insensitive to others' needs and emotions. Her mind seemed very analytical and logical, and while inside her head I often had an impression that she was distanced both from her own and others' feelings. However, she was trying her best to take care of her insecure partner / best friend Zakuro and communicate how important she was to her.
I can't say that I particularly liked Calinthe as a person. I didn't dislike her either. But I was interested in her and enjoyed her as a character. Just like this whole book and world, she felt very unique and real.
There are many other fascinating characters — various merchants, demons, slavers and slaves, gods and others. Williford — a demon Lord and Calinthe's employer — with his strange speaking patterns and overall personality was probably my favorite. He was so entertaining! I enjoyed getting to know other characters as well, including villains. They all felt real, each with their unique abilities, traits and motivations, belonging to various species and cultures.
There are many LGBTQ+ characters in the book.
For about two thirds of the book, the plot mainly consists of Calinthe and Zakuro traveling various planes of the dominion, meeting people and getting in trouble as they hunt for information, looking for a certain missing demon. The last third takes a dark turn, but I don't want to spoil it.
Ah, the world-building! This is one of the most delicious components of the book. This is such a complex, multi-layered and vast world, and the author has thought everything (and I do mean everything!) through. It's full of unique creatures and plants, gods and their descendants inheriting different magical powers, entangled political relationships, societal roles, drastically different cultures and so much more. It's a world like no other, and everything in it works according to its internal logic. It felt tangible, real and magical at the same time. I've fallen in love with it!
I loved Merchants of Knowledge and Magic! Immersing in the fascinating magical world, meeting all the intriguing characters and creatures and hating the cunning villains was a real adventure. The book also broke my heart, and certain scenes disgusted me (which was intentional). There is a lot of darkness in the story, and it might be too brutal for some readers. It is, without a doubt, absolutely unique and unlike anything else. Can't wait for other books by Erica McCorkle!
You might enjoy Merchants of Knowledge and Magic if you like in-depth world-building and understanding how things work, original stories, adult content and don't mind violence, slavery, rape and abuse.
You can buy the book on Amazon.
Check out my interview with the author!
Erika McCorkle is an author, avid world-builder, and consumer of all things fantasy, whether that be books, video games, or anime. Her debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, was published on April 8th, 2022 by Shadow Spark Publishing. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Check out her website to see character art and learn more about the world and Erika.
Featured image by Dami. It shows Calinthe (green-skinned and blue-haired, wearing a dark purple dress and hat) reading a book by a large round window in a library dimly lit by glowing purple lotuses while stars sparkle in the sky.