The Cipher by Diana Pharaoh Francis | #COYER Book Review

July 18, 2014 Reviews 12

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
The Cipher by Diana Pharaoh Francis | #COYER Book ReviewThe Cipher by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Series: Crosspointe Chronicles #1
Published by Bell Bridge Books on June 30, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 314
Length: 13 hours 24 minutes
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

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.

Note: The Cipher was recently re-released with some changes. This review is of the version released June 30, 2014

My Initial Reaction…

It’s been a little bit since I read Diana Pharaoh Francis and I’d sort of forgotten her incredible ability to weave fantasy worlds that blow my mind with their originality, to torture her characters in ways that make me cringe in pain and despair of hope, all while enticing me to not let the book go. The Cipher delivered all that and reminded me why she’s one of my favorite authors.

The Characters…

The characters in The Cipher are beautifully complex and flawed. The Cipher is told from the point of view of the two main characters – Lucy Trenton and Marten Thorpe.

I loved everything about Lucy. She’s a customs inspector – sounds boring, right? Nope! In this world – which I will gush about thoroughly in the next section – it’s anything but boring. It’s a position of authority and, as we see right away, requiring some serious cojones! She has to deal with consequences of this serious magical storm that not only wrecks pretty much every ship trying to make its way to her port, but devours – Yes DEVOURS – the people on board and transforms them into dangerous, hideous scary creatures. In just the first few chapters my stomach dropped out numerous times at these horrific descriptions, but Lucy not only had to deal with it – she had to take command of it. And she did so in an admirable way. Sure she has nightmares about it later, but who wouldn’t?

So Lucy’s kick ass. She’s also got quite a mouth on her, refuses to be made into the proper lady her mother wishes she’d be, has no qualms about taking a lover, and tells it how it is – even when talking about herself. She repeatedly says she’s rude, insensitive, and not very beautiful – but not in the “feel sorry for me” way. Nope, she takes ownership of who she is and makes no apology. Except on one major issue. She’s been committing a serious offense – the kind that will take down not just her but everyone she knows – and in The Cipher it’s about to catch up to her. And that’s when we saw the other part about her I loved – she owns her mistakes, is willing to face them dead on and take responsibility for them, all while trying to protect others from the possible fall out. And did I mention she won’t go down without a fight? Yeah, I seriously love this girl.

And then there’s Marten. Oh man I just got so frustrated with him, felt so sorry for him, and fell in love with him – in a pretty fluid circle. Marten’s got this really great heart deep down, but he has one major flaw. He’s a gambler. Not a “I like to gamble from time to time” kind of gambler. A “I’m going to ruin my life because I can’t live without it” kind of gambler. Watching him try to deal with the draw and repercussions of that addiction was painful and brutal in a way only Diana Pharaoh Francis can write. And when his gambling tangles him up with Lucy – things get really messy, he starts to have some serious crises of conscience, and things get really messy again. Marten Thorpe is the walking disaster you can’t help but love.

There are some seriously brilliant secondary characters in The Cipher as well. I’ve gone on and on already though, so I’ll just say that from good guy to bad guy, they’re all marvelously written and complex.

The Story…

Oh gosh, this review is already so long and I have so much to say about the world in The Cipher! If you’ve read Diana Pharaoh Francis you know she’s incredibly creative and knows how to build a world. I knew all that going in and still The Cipher‘s world building blew me away. We’ve got this island world that felt a bit like Victorian England – strong sea kingdom, corsets, balls, wash basins, quarters within the city, etc – and yet was nothing like it. For one, it’s clear that men and women aren’t divided along ridiculous gender lines – entire ship crews are made up of men or women, women own businesses, women and men have similar sexual freedoms, etc. She changes all these little details too – not even the same units of measurement for time. Days of the week aren’t Monday, Tuesday, etc – they have different names that fit a sea culture. They measure time by the glass. It’s different and yet familiar enough that you understand it.

And then there’s the magic! I have to admit, this was the one area I would have liked things better explained. Like most high fantasy, in The Cipher you get all these new words that you aren’t familiar with and sometimes I got confused about what meant what. But on the whole, it was still brilliant. You’ve got this whole class of people who practice magic and there supposed to be registered when they have that ability. They are generally healers but they also create magical objects and there’s even this magical forcefield (for lack of a better world) protecting the kingdom.

I was gripped by the world & characters from the start – and then the plot was equally awesome. Lucy’s being blackmailed and you just know shit’s going to hit the fan. Except your really hope it won’t. And the beautiful agony of waiting to see what would happen and never being able to know just how far Diana Pharaoh Francis is going to torture these poor people just kept me glued to The Cipher.

Concluding Sentiments…

If you can handle some serious pain and chilling descriptions and a bit of agony for your characters, I seriously recommend The Cipher!

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About Diana Pharaoh Francis

I was raised on a cattle ranch in Northern California (outside a town called Lincoln which is now part of an enormous sprawl). I taught myself to ride a horse at the age of six, as no one had the time to teach me—they were all busy learning how to irrigate, how to cajole an angry bull into another field, how to pull a calf… Afraid of heights, and absolutely sure I was going to die, I managed to scramble up on the back of a very patient and lazy strawberry roan destrier, and plod off into the sunset.

Thereafter, I spent much of my early life on horseback, or so far buried into a book that the rest of the world ceased to exist (much to the annoyance of my family—it took several attempts to get my attention). We all had very specific jobs on the ranch and mine was horses and cattle—out rounding up at dawn. And since I rode bareback, my standing request was to wake me up 5 minutes before everyone else headed for the barn—time enough to dress and eat my Wheaties, and no sleep time wasted on saddling.

After high school, I attended college after college, racking up a BA and MA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in literature and theory. My very patient and supportive husband traipsed across the Midwest and back to Montana for me (though my husband insists that he’s been running and hiding and I just keep finding him), where I now teach at the University of Montana-Western. We also a son Q-ball, who in our humbly unbiased opinions, is the most wonderful son ever produced, and a daughter, Princess Caesar, who is the most wonderful daughter ever produced.

I have a fascination for the Victorians, weather, geology, horses, plants and mythology, I like spicy food, chocolate and cheesecake, and I have an odd sense of humor. (Or so I’ve been told. Often.) Incidentally, the Pharaoh is in fact my real name, and oddly enough, is of British origin.

Some of my current favorite sf/f writers are Ilona Andrews, Carol Berg, C.E. Murphy, Patty Briggs, Lynn Flewelling, Rachel Caine, David Coe, and Anne Bishop.


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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

12 Responses to “The Cipher by Diana Pharaoh Francis | #COYER Book Review”

  1. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    SOLD. Not that I was a tough sell, LOL. You know that I love the Horngate Witches, so I’ve had these on my radar forever, but sometimes . . . genre switches don’t work really well for authors (like Kim Harrison writing fantasy as Dawn Cook), so I was holding out until I had more information. Happy to move forward now. Great review!
    Jessica recently posted…Mini Reviews: White Witch, Black Curse & Black Magic Sanction by Kim HarrisonMy Profile

    • Berls

      OMG Thank you! I swear, I’ve felt like the only person who didn’t like Kim Harrison writing as Dawn Cook! I had to DNF First Truth and was shocked. It was after I read Ever After and was twiddling my thumbs waiting for the next book (AKA the days before blogging) and decided to pick up her Dawn Cook series. I wanted to love it so bad but I was so BORED. So once again we seem to be on the same page Jessica 🙂 And I don’t feel all alone anymore on my island of disappointment.

      Anyway – about this book – I was thinking of you when I wrote this review because I really think (and hope) you’ll like it. I noted this in the review, but just in case you didn’t notice – I’m reviewing the re-release and it is different. I asked Diana (squee! yes we tweet every now and then ever since she commented on my review!!! Fangirling hard) and she said that there were significant changes, particularly to the character building. So make sure to get a new one when you do read it 🙂
      Berls recently posted…The Assassin and the Pirate Lord | #COYER Short ReviewMy Profile

      • Jessica @ Rabid Reads

        Yeah, no, I was bored out of my mind. And then I was aggravated, b/c I was stuck with all four of the books, b/c that was when Amazon still did their 4-for-3 paperback deal.

        As for this series, I looked it up, and only this book is available, and I couldn’t find any release dates for the other books that are, presumably, going to be rereleased as well. Can you use your awesome insider status to find out what the deal with that is?? 😀 😀 😀

        • Berls

          Ugh! That’s the worst 🙁 I had picked it up on Audible and since it was a DNF for me I actually returned it. If I finish an audiobook and don’t like it I keep it – but if I couldn’t even get through it, I return.

          Anyway the next book in the series is called The Black Ship and at the end of the eARC it mentioned a July release. But I tweeted DPF because I haven’t seen anything yet. She responded “I think it’s going to be another few weeks. Maybe more. When I get a date, I will let you know.” So I’ll let you know once she tells me 😉
          Berls recently posted…Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi| Audio ReviewMy Profile

  2. Rita

    This sounds really good! Intense fantasy with action and romance. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Berls

      LOL yeah the review was longer than I normally like to do, but I just couldn’t shut up about how good it is 🙂 I knew the second I saw Diana Pharaoh Francis that I wanted to read this, I haven’t read all her work, but everything I have read I’ve loved 🙂
      Berls recently posted…Book Blog Walkers | Check-in 29My Profile

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