Full disclosure: I read book 2 in this series before I read this one. It was a while ago, so the plot wasn’t entirely spoiled, but I did already have an idea of the world and political situation.
The cover is fine, Lucy somewhat matches her description and I like the depiction of Crosspointe (though I would have liked some representation of The Pale)
Distant member of the royal Rampling family, Lucy Trenton’s ability to detect majick has embroiled her in a dangerous intrigue that threatens her very life. Her only hope lies in her most persistent suitor, ship captain Marten Thorpe, but Lucy isn’t sure she can trust him…
Straight off the bat, there’s a lot of world-building in The Cipher. As I’d already read (and enjoyed) book two, I didn’t mind. However, if you were reading the books in order (and I recommend you do), the constant in-world terms and scenarios at the beginning of the book may get tedious unless you’ve already decided to stick with the book. That being said—I really enjoyed the world built by The Cipher (and continued in the other books of the Crosspointe Chronicles), so if you love in-depth fantasy worlds that have a realistic and well thought out environment and political system, definitely consider reading The Cipher.
The environment in these novels is almost a character in itself, the constant threat of sylveth and the magical artefacts1 and spawn it has created was used to build tension and provide plot devices in a way that never felt unrealistic or forced. The use of the setting to both shape the political environment and provide a constant, low grade threat reminded me of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, in the best way. I love a fully-realised fantasy world, more than just ‘Ancient Europe, plus wizards’ and you can expect far more than that from the Crosspointe Chronicles.
Lucy was an amazing heroine, and the host of secondary characters and antagonists in the novel provided a perfect backdrop for her character to be explored. I loved that she didn’t suffer from Main Character Orphan SyndromeTM, instead possessing a large, caring family that both furthered the plot and provided motivation for her actions at several key points.
Lucy’s relationship with her love interest was unique among the books I have read—it was refreshing to read a heroine with a healthy attitude towards intimacy, rather than one who falls in love at the drop of a hat to ‘justify’ her existence as a sexual being. None of that here! Lucy is not promiscuous, but she has had lovers before, something the book and her love interest both treat as normal (as they should). I also enjoyed the fact that Lucy was a character in her own right, even when she became involved with her love interest—Marten Thorpe. She has friends, family and jobs (that’s right, plural) that inform her decisions, ensuring she never becomes less than a full person.
As much as I loved the world being built, The Cipher as a novel had a few plot holes that somewhat weakened the book’s standing as a book in its own right. Lucy’s relationship seems to build naturally on her end, but I felt Marten’s feelings for her a little harder to accept. The man manipulates her and abuses her trust, at one point reading a file of information on her to better get past her defences (a betrayal that is never discovered or addressed, and seems in fact rather irrelevant to the plot). Marten’s relationship with his brother also falls a little flat to me, perhaps more indications of the effect the man had had on Marten’s life would have made the drama that plays out between the two more effective.
Keros and Sarah are both intriguing characters in their own right, and I really hope that they reappear in future books. There’s a lot of hints at their backstory that make me eager to know more. One of my favourite things about this novel is the believable way the tension was introduced—Lucy’s job, family, abilities and past justify her actions, but her perspective and the way she handles the situation never feels predictable. She takes responsibility without acting the martyr, takes calculated risks without seemingly overbold, and all in all acts in ways totally contrary to most protagonists, while still being very much a hero.
While the final conflict seemed a bit abrupt—both in the quick escalation and sudden conclusion, the ending of The Cipher was interesting, and both Lucy and Marten had grown by the end of the book2. Overall, The Cipher is a fresh, interesting fantasy novel with a strong heroine and a great setting. It is the beginning of an amazing series, and one I would definitely recommend.
1Not a typo. I only discovered as I was writing this that apparently the spelling I’m used to—artifact—is the American version
2Character growth and interesting, believable relationships is pretty much all I require to be a happy reader