The Binding of Magic

In the computational monarchy of Elniwald, unlicensed witchcraft is a crime punishable by death. Eighteen-year-old neo-pacifist Tim, who has spent the past thirteen years hiding in the palace basement, is forced to stop a pair of bullets in midair when political assassins set their sights on his beloved older sibling. Using powerful magic, Tim teleports an entire crowd of witnesses to safety, disables the assassins’ weapons, and ensures that his sister is able to escape, but the resulting power drain leaves him completely vulnerable to an unforgiving police force.

Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, heir to the throne, uses her influence and technological savvy to protect him, but she’s forced to strike a terrible bargain with their father the monarch in order to save his life. Tim is sentenced to imprisonment in a so-called school of magic, cut off from all contact with the outside world and subjected to a series of escalating punishments designed to force him into becoming what normal people think a warlock should be: old fashioned, obedient, and weak enough to be dominated. When he meets an unfailingly kind rebel named Talia, the two of them combine their magic and hatch a plot to trick their way to freedom, but the sadistic witch who controls the licensing process is playing a game of her own.

The Binding of Magic is not the first novel I’ve ever worked on, but it is the first that I have been able to revise to the point that I feel really good about it. Truthfully, I’ve been planning and writing novel-length works since junior high, and by the time I’d started high school my friends had stopped believing that I would ever really finish any of them. I had an idea for a series then, and I rewrote the first book of it again and again, often restarting all over again well before I reached the ending. Eventually, I reached a point at which I recognized that the story was as good as I could make it, and I was able to feel a certain fondness for the two short novels that I ended up with, but I knew that I still had a lot to learn before I would be ready to actually publish anything.

Fast forward over ten years, and I once again find myself in the grips of a story that I can’t let go. The Binding of Magic started off as a short exercise for one of my college writing courses, one among many that I wrote during that time. It depicted Tim–a wizard at that time–imprisoned in a school for magic that he was utterly fed up with. It was trying to teach him magic in all of the wrong ways, and he was not having it. He set an ancient book on fire because he was tired of being forced to read the sort of thing that wizards were supposed to read. He turned one of his supervisors into a frog when he came in to scold him. He finished by making the entire castle explode in a burst of bubblegum pink (It’s ok; he teleported everyone outside first. His friend Talia got to hold a frog in her arms while she glared at him).

As it was written at that time, Tim was showing off a bit too much of the rebellious teenager trope, but he was quite the character, and he had some interesting points about trying to force a strict logical and academic framework around something so magical as, well, magic. Why should anyone be forced to follow someone else’s rules for how to properly do something that comes as naturally to them as breathing? Why should anyone have to change something so natural just because it doesn’t fit with others’ desires and expectations? These are the types of thoughts that rooted themselves deep into my brain and caused me to come back to the story again and again.

Initially, I attempted to simply expand the story beyond the point at which the original exercise had left off. I let Tim reunite with his sister Sasha and make grand plans for reforming and revolutionizing the field of magical studies. I had Talia pop up to scold him for thinking that he could do all of it without her. And yet I didn’t know, in the end, where the story was really going. One of my classmates had also pointed out (probably correctly) that having a protagonist gleefully engage in book burning did not send the best message. Tim needed to grow up a little, and I needed more experience.

The book in its current form has retained a lot of the same ideas from the original: Tim still finds himself imprisoned in a castle, tasked to learn the “proper way” of doing magic, but this time he would never dream of using his magic in a way that would put anybody else at risk. Talia still becomes his closest friend, but her role in the story has been greatly expanded, and her character along with it. Sasha has become Shiloh, an older sibling, not a younger one, but they still spend the story trying to get back to each other. Perhaps the most important change is that it’s no longer so easy for anyone to make an entire castle explode. Magic has limits now, and the characters face true struggles. I found out what was leaving me directionless.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and these characters and the world in which they live have spent all these years swirling around my brain, developing and gaining new complexity. The only thing that I was ever hoping for, back when I set out to be a writer, was to gain the ability to actually take the wonderous imaginings inside my head and translate them onto a page. I would always be trying, and I would always be disappointed in the results. They were always missing something. They always had something about them that was not quite right or just not good enough. Now that I finally feel confident enough to seek publication, I can only hope that readers get a glimpse into this world that I have worked so long to bring to life. I hope they fall in love with these characters in the same way I have.

Elniwald awaits.