Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: The Cipher, by Diana Pharaoh Francis

The Cipher
Book 1 of The Crosspointe Novels
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Bell Bridge Books
Pub Date
Jun 30 2014
DRC courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Welcome to Crosspointe. Where if you don’t control the majick, it may control you…

Publisher’s Description:

Lucy Trenton’s ability to sense majick is one of her most dangerous secrets. But only one.

A blackmailer knows the other.

Suddenly, Lucy is caught in a treasonous plot to destroy the crown, and she’s trapped in the tentacles of a desperate, destructive majick. Her only hope is ship captain Marten Thorpe, who—by every account—cannot be trusted. With time running out, Lucy must find a way to win a dangerous game or lose everything she holds dear.

What I liked

I think the strongest elements in Francis’ writing are her terrific world-building and her characters.

The world-building is rich and complex. Francis uses a lot of her own words within the story, which may sometimes get confusing. But they are well-placed in context. The visual descriptions are very well done. I had no trouble visualizing the scenes—places, people, and action—as I was reading. I particularly liked the complex majick and how it is both used and feared by the society in general and our characters in specific.

I genuinely liked the narrative voices of both Lucy and Marten, the two POV characters, despite the fact that these are both flawed people—more antihero than hero. Lucy starts off kind of stand-offish and selfish, although I liked that she was a strong, dedicated professional woman. Marten’s a would-be hero with a gambling addiction that leads to his ruin and contributes to Lucy’s and many other people’s difficulties (even deaths).

Francis writes them in such a way that I *wanted* them to overcome their many obstacles. I *wanted* them to succeed in their quest, and I wanted them to work things out together. They both grow throughout their journey. There’s a touching reunion with a friend near the end of the novel that highlights this point.

I liked many of the secondary characters as well, and they had enough to do in the story that I felt like I got to know them through the eyes of the main POVs. The villains were sufficiently nasty, if sometimes one-dimensional, and Francis did an excellent job with Marten’s conflicted relationship with his brother.

What I didn’t like

The storytelling bogged down in places, but never enough to make me really give up. It was a combination of too much description and not enough action or forward momentum. But overall, I enjoyed the narrative language and the storytelling very much.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending. Pretty much *everything* happens in the last three or four chapters, so it felt too abrupt at times, after so much struggle to get there. And the actual ending felt limp after the tension of the dramatic action right up to it. I appreciate the circular nature of the beginning and ending, but it made me wrinkle my nose nonetheless.

The foreign Jutras were given very vivid physical descriptions, and Lucy even has sympathy for some of them at times. But we don’t get to interact with them at all, to see them as real and complex characters in their own right. Their final scene is pretty horrific, and it will be a challenge for Francis to build any reader connection with them in future books. I hope she will do so, and give us a more fully realized culture to provide a context for their actions in The Cipher.

Caveats (potential triggers)

There is some sex, some threatening sexual language, and fairly detailed graphic violence.


I found this book on NetGalley and requested a review copy. I enjoyed the story very much and plan to continue Francis’ series of Crosspointe novels. I give it four out of five “sparks”.


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s one I love:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.

Dogs in House

Music Playing
Soundtrack to Rent

Time writing
Much too long, but necessary prep for my first book review

September word count


  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 34
    Time: ~30 min

  2. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 34. Struggling with new POV again. Definitely needed in the story, but it is causing a lot of subtle shifts in some scenes.
    Time: ~40 min