On one of the many planes of the Pentagonal Dominion, priestess Calinthe trades in information, collecting valuable secrets for her demonic employer. Calinthe has a secret of her own: she’s intersex, making her a target for the matriarchal slavers of the Ophidian Plane whose territory she must cross in her search for hidden knowledge. But thanks to her friend Zakuro’s illusions, Calinthe presents as a woman- a comfortable, if furtive, existence in a world determined to bring her to heel.
But when, instead of a mere secret, the priestess uncovers an incalculably powerful artifact, Calinthe finds herself in a high-stakes negotiation with the same matriarchs who sought to enslave her. On the table: Calinthe’s discovery, a charm powerful enough to transform a mortal into a god… against a secret so deadly it could quell all life on every plane of the dominion. If Calinthe plays her cards perfectly, she and Zakuro could escape Ophidia wealthier than either of them ever dreamed possible.
But if she plays them wrong...
she’ll learn slavery in her pursuers’ hands is a fate far worse than death.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is such a unique dark fantasy novel, a first step into the Pentagonal Dominion world created by Erika McCorkle. It is a really brave book, one that is not afraid of portraying the grimmest aspects of the world, with an extensive labour of world-building and characters that defy conventionalisms.
Our story is going to be following Calinthe and Zakuro on a quest to rescue a couple of men from the Ophidian plane; a quest that will push both to their limits. Before starting this quest, they also get to have an encounter with Williford, Calinthe's patron; which marks the real start of the quest for our merchants.
And let's stop for a moment to talk about the characters, especially about Calinthe. Our merchant of knowledge is an intersex character, showing how McCorkle introduces also the notions of the difference between sex and genre in her world; due to this rarity, Calinthe will be seen as a really desirable specimen for the slave traders on the Ophidia plane. Zakuro has been her loyal mate for a while, somebody who Calinthe loves and appreciates; a circumstance that will be used by the slave traders to put pressure on Calinthe multiple times.
Among the secondary characters, we can see the Ophidian flesh merchants as the representation of hedonism, how they can only see the relationship between specimens as different variations of the master/slave version. McCorkle is not shy about portraying these aspects, so I strongly recommend reading the content warnings before diving into this book. Rest of the cast is certainly interesting, with a deserved mention of lord Williford, as it is interesting to see how demons behave in general.
Worldbuilding is also one of the most impressive aspects of this book; Pentagonal Dominion with its several planes is developed in a really organic way, showing different details of it in small bits, being Calinthe's occupation perfect for this. It certainly remembers me a little of science-fantasy, especially because there are several details regarding the biology and anatomy of the characters that feel really suitable for the genre.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is a different take on the dark fantasy genre, a unique book that I strongly recommend reading (and again, be aware of reading the content warnings), especially if you like extensive world-building. Pentagonal Dominion has gained a new fan!
I am Erika McCorkle, she/her, living in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. I am a creator of fantasy worlds and a voyager to the worlds created by others. I spend much of my free time writing, reading, watching anime, and playing video games, all usually of the fantasy genre. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and currently work the night shift at a blood bank, meaning I am most definitely a vampire.