Monday, April 11, 2016


by Raymond E. Feist
Recommended Ages: 14+

What happens when you pour a shot of wormhole-traveling alien-invasion science fiction into a bottle of sword-and-sorcery high fantasy, cork it, and shake well? Middle Earth with a Stargate Universe fizz? Maybe. Or maybe you get this ridiculously entertaining book - this magnificent, daring, epic, mind-awing, heart-touching, funny, suspenseful, ingeniously structured, exciting-to-the-last-page spellweave of mythopoeic world-building and genre-bending originality.

I might also mention it has romance in it, but the reason I'm lighting up a 14+ age advisory is not so much because of the maturity of its boy-meets-girl bits (which are really rather tame) as because of the amount and intensity of violence it contains and the breadth of attention span it calls for, to say nothing of the muscle development required to hold up a 680-page hardcover. Reading Harry Potter is good practice to get in condition for books like this. It's a wonder no one has tried to market the idea of a fitness program based on doing epic fantasy novel curls. A copy of this book could be part of the starter pack.

Magician tells the story of a keep boy named Pug - an orphan raised as a sort of foster-child-at-large in the castle keep of Crydee, a backwater duchy on the western shore of a continent-spanning Kingdom in a world called Midkemia. Pug's liege lord is a duke who stands second in line of succession for the throne, behind a sickly prince who doesn't want to rule, and a mad king who fears the prince and the duke are out to get him. Pug, like his best friend Tomas, dreams of becoming a soldier. But on the day when boys their age are chosen as apprentices by the local masters of various trades, Tomas is recruited to the guard, but Pug is the last boy left unchosen. Seemingly out of pity, the magician Kulgan, one of Duke Borric's inner circle of advisers, selects Pug as his apprentice.

Soon Pug is discovering a strange kind of magic trapped inside him. A bit of it peeks out now and then, earning him the duke's favor and the passionate attachment of the duke's daughter, Princess Carline. But before he really has time to settle down and grow into his power, Pug gets swept into a dangerous adventure involving alien invaders from another world. Dwarves, elves, the dangerous dark cousins of elves, a dragon, a sorcerer, and a being of ancient power get mixed into it, and Pug and Tomas are carried off to separate destines, meeting again only years later when both have been transformed almost out of all recognition.

Pug becomes a prisoner of war, then a slave, then an apprentice to a different order of magic in which failure means death. He gains a new name - Milamber - and masters powers few, if any, have ever wielded in either the world of his birth or the world to which he now belongs. He quickly becomes a catalyst, either for the destruction or the salvation of both worlds. Tomas, meanwhile, follows the path of a far older magic to become a mighty warrior, on whom the survival of the elves and dwarves depends. But he also faces an inner struggle over his very identity - a character conflict in the deepest sense, and one that could also bring either balance or disruption to the elven realm.

Meanwhile, as the epic tale unfolds, a third hero emerges: Arutha, the younger son of Duke Borric, and at the tale's opening only a lad a few years older than Pug and Tomas. As a magical rift in space brings invaders from the world of Kelewan to the western parts of the Kingdom, the battle lines cut off Borric, elder son Lyam, and other reinforcements from the isolated duchy of Crydee. And so it falls to Arutha and those with him to defend it - a defense in which the brooding young prince develops great qualities of leadership.

I'm trying to whet your appetite for this story without going on for another six paragraphs. But it's oh, so hard not to spill more than the fair allotment of hints about what happens! I was going to name a few more characters, but that would just make it confusing. I was going to mention some of the big questions that become fraught with suspense and mystery, but that would risk spoiling too many surprises. The problem is, it is such a big story, fully deserving of the word "epic," that it's impossible to give a sense of its overall shape without lapsing into a synopsis of the whole book - which is not what I'm trying to write. Besides, such a synopsis might give the false idea that in its huge dimensions and complex structure, it is difficult to follow or ponderous in its movement. On the contrary, it is a book that moves a clear purpose that grips the reader from one end to the other. Unlike even some of the very finest fantasy tomes, it does not leave you floundering across narrative eddies of confused currents or struggling to coast across calms of uninteresting detail. Even in the revised, expanded, "author's preferred edition" that I happened to read, it only rarely suffered, for but the briefest moment now and again, from the sense that a scene was unnecessary or that a conversation went on a few beats too long. It was, in fact, ingeniously engineered to thrill to the very last page, and left me laughing at its closing sentence.

Magician is a novel that, because it is so huge, is most often divided into two books: Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. Either separately they form Books 1 and 2, or together they form Book 1, of a series called the Riftwar Saga, in which the immediate sequels are Silverthorn, A Darkness at Sethanon, Prince of the Blood, and The King's Buccaneer. While Feist has gone on from this 1982 debut novel to write numerous fantasy sagas, divided into trilogies and quartets, they all seem to grow out of this book. Most of these apparent spinoff series have "Riftwar" somewhere in their name; then there are the Darkwar, Demonwar, and Chaoswar sagas, which sound like prequels and sequels. I think the cycle totals up to 30 books written over a 30-year period. Now Feist is promising to roll out a completely original, post-Riftwar masterpiece in 2017, titled King of Ashes. While getting into a series of this scope is a daunting undertaking, I find the first book a captivating advertisement for doing just that.

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