‘The Atlas Six’ is a character study of six magicians – or medeians – each competing for a place in a highly secretive and prestigious society. It’s a slow and atmospheric read, far more about people than plot – and whilst some might find it tedious and meandering, for those who enjoy psychology, philosophy, and introspective novels such as ‘The Secret History’ or ‘If We Were Villains‘, this is a highly recommended read.
The Alexandrian Society guards the lost knowledge of civilizations, its members consisting of the best magicians in the world. Each decade, six initiates are chosen, each with their own unique magical strength – of which five will be granted membership. The six chosen must live and study together for a year, where they will have access to untold knowledge – and can either collaborate or compete as they see fit. At the end, they must decide who will be eliminated. As the six players dive into magic no-one has attempted before, advancing the field of human knowledge to untold heights, that shadow always looms over their head – after the year is up, one of them will be gone.
Olivie Blake’s worldbuilding is simple, merely adding magic to the current world with a few twists – but the atmosphere she creates with it is astounding. There are secrets upon secrets, and with illusory magic and magicians who can change how you think and feel, its never clear to either the characters or the reader exactly what’s real or who to trust.
It’s the characters, though, which make the novel. They’re all delightfully morally grey – even the ones who seem pure and innocent becoming less so by the end, and those who seem heartless and scheming suggesting they might just have good intentions buried deep. Each brings something different, and it’s difficult to know who to root for – or against.
The relationships between the characters are complex and ever-changing, none of them fully able to trust the others. Nico and Libby orbit around each other like binary stars – neither really able to live without the other, but neither fully accepting that fact. Reina stands alone, separating herself from the crowd – despite the fact that her powers can never be fully realised in isolation. Parisa can seduce anyone, but while everyone’s secrets are visible to her she keeps her own close. Callum, capable of persuading anyone to do or be anything, is mistrusted by all – except Tristan, whose power is so niche and so difficult to understand he has difficulty believing he should be a part of it. Tristan oscillates between Callum and Parisa like a metronome, clinging to those who can know him because he barely knows himself.
This is the first in an intended series, with a twist at the end that sets up plenty of intriguing directions for a sequel. I’ll be very interested to see how the author continues it – the plot is very much secondary to character and character dynamics here, and striking the balance with characters who already know each other will be exceptionally challenging. By their nature, intimate character studies often work better as standalones, but given the strength of this I’m highly hopeful that Olivie Blake will pull it off.
Overall, ‘The Atlas Six’ is a musing, meandering tale of power, humanity, and the complexities of human psychology against a backdrop of magic and the excusivity of academia. It won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who enjoy morally grey character studies this is a highly recommended read.
Thanks to Tor UK, Black Crow PR, and Netgalley for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Tor
Hardback: 3rd March 2022