Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for The Sorceress Transcendent by Casey Blair.
Once mortal enemies on the battlefield, what can they become supporting each other instead?
When Varius, the greatest general of the Aurelian Empire, is forced to flee his homeland, there’s only one person he can turn to.
A powerful sorceress and once his most deadly enemy, Theira is the only combatant who’s ever escaped the war between their peoples. But with the memories of how they kept each other going from opposite sides of a battlefield, when a bleeding Varius knocks on her door, she lets him in, even knowing what will follow.
Theira may have gotten away, but as long as the war goes on, she’ll never really be free. Now with both their peoples actively hunting them, the two most dangerous fighters in a never-ending war will have to join forces to do the end it once and for all, on their terms.
And if they can dare to dream boldly enough, maybe find happiness for themselves, too.
The Sorceress Transcendent is a stand-alone enemies-to-lovers epic fantasy romance novella about badasses who enjoy a cozy cup of tea after a long day wreaking epic destruction, because why choose? This story is for everyone who knows what’s coming when your former mortal enemy and best rival knocks on the door in the middle of the night and says, “I had nowhere else to go.”
The Sorceress Transcendent wears its tropes proudly on its sleeves by exploring an enemies-to-lovers romance while also answering the question of what would happen if your sworn enemy came calling for help. I was pleased to see this was a self-contained standalone story that also hit some cozy vibes.
The story is split between two third-person POVs, both on opposite sides of a great war. We start with Varius, a Roman soldier-inspired warrior who fought long and hard for his empire, only to realize that his leaders don’t particularly care for the people. Then we have Theira, an all powerful and famous sorceress on the opposing side of the war. Gifted with incredible magic and the talent to use it, Theira fights as a battle mage, and the two have clashed repeatedly through history, earning a grudging respect for one another. So when a wounded Varius is forced to flee the empire and seek shelter with a retired Theira, he knows he’s bringing the war back to her door.
I found both characters instantly likable. Both are smart, capable individuals with their own skill sets, and as they begin a tentative relationship, they both bloom and find new ways to respect each other, which I found quite sweet. I personally love reading about power couples that not only respect each other’s abilities, but also encourage them, and I especially liked that Varius wasn’t scared of or threatened by Theira’s magical abilities. As the story goes on, we see them both pushed to their limit and showing off exactly what each can do.
My only criticism of their relationship is that, while they were technically rivals on the battlefield, I’d hesitate to describe it as an enemies-to-lovers. They’re more like rivals-to-lovers. So if you’re looking specifically for an enemies-to-lovers dynamic, I don’t think this would satisfy you. While Varius and Theira’s relationship moved quickly, which I’ll forgive for a novella, I was disappointed by it culminating in a fade-to-black scene. I really hoped for more there!
Most of the story takes place in Theira’s cottage which is described in loving detail. The scenes here border on cozy fantasy, with descriptions of domestic life between two warriors who are really quite tired of war. The world itself seems to be Roman inspired. We don’t get to explore much of it, except for a main city, but the tidbits of world-building throughout paint a nice picture of what life is like on either side of the war. I would have liked more details on the sorcerer’s side, as their school and training sounded more intriguing!
The plot is effectively split into two halves. We begin with Varius seeking shelter with Theira and adjusting to life in her cottage as he heals from his injuries and navigates his relationship with Theira in a domestic setting away from a battlefield. These scenes I would describe as quite cozy, but I found them enjoyable and well paced. The second half focuses on the war, as Varius and Theira train together in order to end the war between their people for good. I didn’t find the training scenes or battle after all that interesting, which may be my own changing taste. Again, the cozy aspect of the story left me feeling that the battle scenes didn’t have much tension or stakes to them.
If anything, I would say that this book fits a standard romantasy story, but cuts out most of the kingdom fighting parts to focus on the important aspects – romance!
I enjoyed the writing style, which switched smoothly between the two POV characters.
The Sorceress Transcendent was a nice bite-sized morsel of a romantasy adventure squeezed down into tasty bits. Throughout this competition, I’ve appreciated novellas which are standalone, self-contained stories more than prequel novellas, as prequels often require some knowledge of the series to fully appreciate or enjoy. However, I sometimes found myself thinking that this book was written almost as an epilogue sequel to a series that already existed. There’s a lot of history and background between the two POV’s that are explained, but to me, it gave the impression that I was missing something – a whole series, perhaps. There was a lot of detail missing from the book as a result that I felt I wanted to or was expected to know, and yet it didn’t exist!
So while I did enjoy The Sorceress Transcendent, I did think it was missing a few aspects. However, Casey Blair is now firmly on my radar and I will be checking out the authors’ other books!
Cover Art and Formatting
I really love the cover! It’s one of my favourites from Team Jamreads.