Adrienne Martini Reviews Battle of the Linguist Mages by Scotto Moore

Battle of the Linguist Mages, Scotto Moore (Tordotcom 978-1-250-76772-1, 448pp, $28.99, hc) January 2022.

Scotto Moore’s debut story Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You was a weird trip into the wild world of streaming music and touring bands. It was a strange delight – and at about 128 pages, it was just enough too muchness to be fun. Battle of the Linguist Mages is very much a Moore creation – weird and wild and delightful – but it becomes too much too quickly and loses any tether to its own reality.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t wonderful mo­ments in this story about Isobel, an unemployed, single Californian who is the Queen of a VR game called Sparkle Dungeon. The lines between the game and life grow blurry in the opening chapters. As it turns out, one feature of Sparkle Dungeon – the ability of users to cast spells by speaking them – relies on “power morphemes,” which translate into magic words that can change the behaviors of those who hear them in real life. This is a feature rather than a bug. Different parties want to use these morphemes for competing reasons, and the conflicts both in real life and in the game world start to bleed into each other.

Only the conflicts start to lack any real weight, because everything done seems easily undone. Isobel ultimately needs to save millions of people from a grisly fate, only it’s hard to care too much because the lines between action and consequence are so blurry they are invisible. And while Moore’s whimsy keeps the story fun – the spell/artifact names are perfection – the ethereal plot doesn’t connect, either within itself or to the reader. Or, at least, this reader.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the April 2022 issue of Locus.

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