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Literature / With A Single Spell

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With A Single Spell, second of the The Legends of Ethshar fantasy novels by Lawrence Watt-Evans, chronicles the early adventures of Tobas of Telven.

Tobas, son of a pirate, spent the first fifteen years of his life certain that he'd inherit his father's money, start a little business, and get by without having to do any hard work...

...and then his father sank at sea, with all his money on his ship.

Kicked out of his cousins' home, he managed to convince the local wizard to take him on as an apprentice.


After over a year of learning about wizardry itself, and practicing Thrindle's Combustion over and over until he could practically do it without thinking, Roggit was finally satisfied enough with Tobas's progress that he promised to teach him a second spell...

...and then proceeded to die in his sleep.

Left with his his master's hut and all the wonders within, Tobas decided to try and teach himself magic...

...and accidentally burned the place down.

It seemed Tobas had no choice but to go out and seek his destiny, but what kind of wizard could he be with only one spell?


This novel provides examples of:

  • Anti-Magic: A spell that causes this brought down Derithon's castle. Fridge Logic is applied when the implications of the spell (which completely and permanently destroys ALL magic in a wide area) in a world that runs heavily on magic are considered- it's treated as a weapon of mass destruction, permanently banned, and the wizard who invented it was executed.
  • The Apprentice: Tobas manages to barely convince the elderly, half-senile, half-blind wizard Roggit that he's twelve rather than fifteen so he can become this.
  • Arranged Marriage: Part of the reward for ridding Dwomor of its dragon. In fact, getting rid of surplus princesses was the whole point of the enterprise. Tobas ends up with Alorria as a result.
  • Artificial Meat: Derithon and Karanissa's private castle is supplied by a number of magical plants that create all kinds of improbable foods. The beef plant Squicks Tobas right out.
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  • Art Initiates Life: By creating a Portal Picture to a place that doesn't exist in the void, Derithon created a private castle from nothing.
  • Born Unlucky: Tobas thinks this about himself at first.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Tobas expected to coast along on his father's money, until it sank into the ocean with him. Then he expected to learn wizardry and spend an easy life casting a few spells now and then, until his master died. When he gets his hands on Derithon's abandoned spellbook, though, he turns out to be a very talented wizard indeed.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Destiny gives Tobas a few good hard kicks.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tobas learns the hard way that Thrindle's Combustion makes a huge explosion when cast upon a burning fire. But the fire-breathing dragon he casts it on later in the book gets it even worse.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Tobas and Karanissa have known each other for all of three months when they marry. Granted, it was three months spent exclusively in a single castle with no company but each other.
  • From Bad to Worse: Not only does Tobas's master die before he can teach him more than one spell, but Tobas's injudicious use of that spell then proceeds to destroy everything he could possibly have inherited.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: A miscast spell brings spriggans into the world, and the little creatures spend the next few books irritating people all over Eshthar.
  • Having a Blast: Casting Thrindle's Combustion on a fire makes an explosion.
  • Heroic Albino: Peren The White.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Tobas has to steal someone's boat, but makes up for it five years later, with interest.
  • I Choose to Stay: Peren decides to stay in Dwomor, where he has a wife and a position with the kingdom, rather than return to Ethshar, where he was regarded as a freak.
  • Incompletely Trained: Roggit had misgivings about Tobas's apprenticeship (apparently he knew Tobas lied about his age all along and took him in out of pity before having second thoughts), and was a very reluctant teacher. As such Tobas barely had his athame made and one spell learned before the old man kicked it.
  • Magical Society: As Tobas discovers to his dismay, wizards guard their spells very jealously and while they may trade spells among each other, they refuse to simply give them away. Nor will they take on a seventeen-year old apprentice.
  • Military Mage: Derithon and Karanissa during the Great War.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: The only ominous thing about Derithon's castle is that something made it fall.
  • Playing with Fire: Thrindle's Combustion ignites anything that could theoretically catch on fire no matter how wet it is or what weather conditions are like.
  • Polyamory: Tobas ends up taking two wives.
  • Portal Picture: A spell can make these to send a person from one place to another, with the caveat that if either location changes in appearance from the picture as painted, it can't be visited until it's restored.
  • Ragnarök Proofing:
    • Averted. The isolated location of Derithon's fallen flying castle has kept it pretty safe from looters, but time and what animals can get to it have affected all but the innermost chambers.
    • His castle in the void is much better off, since it has a person and several beings looking after it. The gardens are starting to fail after four hundred-odd years without someone who can maintain them, however.
  • Rescue Romance: Accidental (at first) on Tobas's part, since he didn't know the tapestry he swiped was a Portal Picture, but he does figure a way to get himself and Karanissa out.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Two members of Tobas's dragon-hunting party decide this upon meeting and escaping from the dragon.
  • Self-Made Man: Circumstances force Tobas to teach himself magic with the help of an abandoned spellbook.
  • Shrug Take: Tobas worries briefly about a wizard's reaction to learning that he was apprenticed at fifteen rather than twelve, but it turns out to be basically this.
  • Standard Hero Reward: The heroes who managed to slay the dragon would be entitled to the hand of one of the kingdom's (many) princesses and a share of its wealth. Tobas tries to just claim the wealth on the grounds that he'd married Karanissa already, but is told that the money is attached to the princess as a dowrynote . Fortunately Karanissa is pragmatic enough that she doesn't mind sharing Tobas.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Tobas finds a spell that lets him do this.
  • Time Abyss: Karanissa, magically young and beautiful, learns she's been stuck in her magical castle for four hundred and fifty-nine years (she'd completely lost track of time and thought it had been only a couple of years at most, if that). She's not happy.

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