Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2021 The Return of the Sorceress is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy novella.
Yalxi, Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, has been deposed. But her usurper Xellah has made a fatal error: he has kept her alive as a prisoner so that he can make use of her magic-imbued blood. Dead foes may not be useful as sources of magic but living foes can escape, which is what Yalxi has done.
Wounded and stripped of the Diamond Heart from which so much of her power came, Yalxi is nevertheless an opponent of whom Xellah should be wary.
The Diamond Heart on which Yalxi came to depend is the crux of the dispute between Yalxi and Xellah. Once it belonged to Master of the House of Sorcery Teotah, the sorcerer from whom Yalxi, Xellah and their doomed friend Itzyul learned the arcane arts. As Teotah grew older, his desire for power led him to see his subordinates merely as convenient repositories for the blood that sorcery demands. Fearing that Teotah would eventually simply kill them all, Yalxi, Xellah, and Itzyul ambushed and murdered the old mage.
Yalxi should have burned her former mentor’s diamond. Instead, she claimed it and the power within for her own even as Itzyul lay dying from the wounds Teotah inflicted on her. With the Diamond Heart, Yalxi could take Teotah’s place in the House of Sorcery. As is so often true, there was a catch: Teotah was only mostly dead and that which remained in the Diamond Heart influenced its user. Thus, despite her best efforts to resist the Heart’s influence, with time Yalxi became crueller and more rapacious, so much so that her former lover Xellah resolves to do to Yalxi what he had helped do to Teotah.
The cycle repeats. Very soon the Diamond will control Xellah and it will be as through Teotah walked again.
Yalxi is determined to take the Diamond from her former lover. If only she had the resources with which to do this….
The setting draws on Mesoamerican history. Indeed, the great city in and around which the adventures occur seems based on Tenochtitlan, something that greatly complicates Yalxi’s quest. There is one significant difference from the real history (well, aside from functional magic): this culture has advanced metalworking. They can smith iron. We know because iron is used as metaphor.
The usual career path for sorcerers appears to be from ambitious apprentice determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, to power-drunk sorcerer terrorizing even those on whom their lives depend, which raises the question of why people tolerate sorcerers at all. The answer appears to be that non-sorcerers have no choice in the matter. There used to be five guilds. Two of them made the mistake of attracting Teotah’s ire so now there are just three .
In all likelihood, Teotah probably didn’t so much fall as vault gleefully into the abyss. However, the other characters at least began with good intentions, however much they managed to convince themselves that what was personally convenient for them was also in the greater good. Indeed, much of Yalxi’s story is driven by the gap between intentions and results. Also, there’s an adorable magical sidekick who didn’t make it into the synopsis.
While Xellah, Yalxi, and Teotah’s story is satisfactorily resolved, there is lots of room in the setting for more tales. I hope the author returns to it.
1: Destroying 40% of the city’s social infrastructure seems like the sort of thing that could cause a general collapse. Certainly, the city seems somewhat disheveled. The novella covers a short period of time, however, so the long-term consequences of the sorcerous feuds are unclear.