Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Souls

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A Crucible of Souls Summary

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After self-publishing his high fantasy novel A Crucible of Souls digitally, author Mitchell Hogan published a book version in 2015. This novel is the first of Hogan’s Sorcery Ascendant series, which follows the adventures of an orphan who discovers his sorcery abilities while training at a series of magic schools and then has to face a growing threat to the empire – a threat that has links to his mysterious past and the mystery of what happened to his parents.

The book’s prologue takes place long before the events of the novel. It opens on the middle of a magical battle, part of a terrible war called The Shattering that rocks the empire to its core. We witness the amazing magical power of some of the combatants and are immediately whisked forward into the present.

In the present, Caldan is a young boy whose parents were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances sometime before the book starts. Though he is an orphan, he is lucky to have been selected for training at a remote monastery that teaches the world’s primary school of magic. After The Shattering, much knowledge of sorcery was lost; no one now knows how to make magical items, destroy things through magic, or use magic to compel or possess others. What remains is called “crafting.” After making a small physical object – usually a piece of paper folded origami-style – a sorcerer inscribes it with runes and then funnels their magical ability into it in order to give a purpose or even kind of quasi-life to the thing that’s made. Objects made this way range from locks to helper animals.

Despite his impressive academic skills, Caldan is an outcast at the monastery because the other students come from wealthy, well-connected families who have the resources to reward the school handsomely for its services. The only person who sympathizes with his plight is Jemma, another student, who becomes his close friend. Knowing how tenuous his position there is, Caldan does his best to stay under the radar until he is ready to go out into the world to find out what happened to his parents. Nevertheless, despite his best efforts to avoid trouble, Caldan gets on the wrong side of a particularly entitled student and the two eventually clash so much that Caldan is asked to leave the monastery for good.

As he is leaving, the monks reveal some crucial pieces of his past. From the family heirlooms he inherits – two rings – we learn that the prologue’s sorcerers were Caldan’s grandparents and mother. Armed with the knowledge that his parents were killed while trying to flee some unnamed evil, Caldan gets on a ship and makes for the nearest city: the port town of Anasoma. While he is sailing, he meets Miranda, a young woman who takes an immediate shine to his humble but clearly talented ways, and Master Simmon, the head of the Anasoma Sorcerer’s Guild.

Anasoma is a shady place with limited protection for a naïve young man, especially one who was expecting a place full of prospects and opportunity. Instead, there are pickpockets around every corner and rogues ready to gull the innocent in every shop. After he accidentally wanders into the wrong part of town because he doesn’t know how to “read” a city, Caldan is mugged and beaten up. With nothing to his name besides the two rings left by his parents, he tries to find work but realizes that without connections or references he is out of luck.

Eventually, in a final moment of desperation, he begs Master Simmon to accept him as an apprentice in the Sorcerers Guild – a position for which he is much too old. In an unprecedented move, Master Simmon agrees. Soon, Caldan’s natural talents for crafting are revealed, and the Guild decides to advance him in the ranks. Caldan is now a Protector, part of a special group of sorcerers who have volunteered to keep the world safe from the schools of sorcery long since thought forgotten after The Shattering, but apparently actually alive and well and in the hands of evil-doers.

Here, Caldan’s point of view is disrupted and new characters are introduced. The book now alternates between the perspectives of four different people. We continue following Caldan through his training and beyond. We also meet Aidan, an elite soldier who finds himself in increasingly morally questionable situations as he travels with the crusader Lady Caitlyn and her brutal, ends-justify-the-means campaign against the jukari, ancient flesh-eating beings created during The Shattering. There is Vasile, whose inquisitor skills and innate ability to tell when someone is lying make him the perfect judge, but also invite unwanted trouble. Finally, we also follow Amerdan, a potentially sociopathic killer who seems to have a connection to Caldan. Although the four do not interact much in this book, the implication is that eventually all of their paths will cross.

The more Caldan learns about his Protector role, the more he realizes that the empire is on the brink of a second Shattering. Several of those around him suffer the ill effects of the dark sorcery he and the other Protectors stand against: Master Simmon falls under the coercive magic of the mysteriously evil man Keys, and Miranda suffers brain damage from destructive magic. Caldan leaves the Guild and sets out into the world.

The novel ends with Caldan traveling in a party that includes the unstable and possibly dangerous Amerdan – a cliffhanger that invites readers to immediately plunge into the next novel in the series.