Wednesday, December 28, 2016


by Raymond E. Feist
Recommended Ages: 13+

Prince Arutha of the great city of Krondor, in the Kingdom of the Isles, in the fantasy world of Midkemia, has scarcely returned from accompanying his brother, lately crowned King Lyam, on a year-long diplomatic tour, when there is an attempt on his life. The assassination attempts grow increasingly fierce and difficult to stave off, which is especially troubling now that Lyam is on his way to Krondor, bringing with him Arutha's intended bride, Princess Anita. Even the combined energies of a boyish thief named Jimmy, a seasoned man-at-arms named Martin, and a roguish minstrel-fighter named Laurie cannot prevent tragedy from striking on the couple's wedding day.

It seems there is a dark power behind this campaign against Arutha's life. It has something to do with a moredhel, or dark elf, calling himself Murmandamus, and claiming the support of an ancient prophecy to muster an army of evil against the world of men. But if Murmandamus is the promised Darkness, that would make Arutha the Bane of Darkness, who alone can stop him. You can see how that might make things a bit uneasy. Throw in some disturbing magic, which brings slain slayers back as all-but-invincible undead warriors, and some dark magic that can send practically weapon-proof monsters over long distances to attack a target whose movements the enemy can somehow track, and you won't be betting heavily on Arutha's survival. Nevertheless, he is more worried about finding an almost mythical plant called silverthorn, which is said to be the only cure for the poisoned wound that is killing Arutha's bride. To find it, he and a small group of tough but resourceful friends will have to march straight into the heart of moredhel territory, to a Black Lake sacred to the forces of evil that, by the way, are all camped around it, waiting for Arutha to fall into the trap. That's all.

Meantime, someone has to deal with the larger problem of the great force of evil gathering against all of Midkemia - some nameless power of which Murmandamus is only a servant. Since the prince is rather preoccupied by his mission to save Anita, even if it kills him, the task of identifying their foe and preparing to fight it falls to good old Pug, the kitchen boy who grew up to be the greatest magician in not one but two worlds. Leaving his wife, their son, and the snug little island where he is building a school of magic, Pug returns to the alien world of Kelewan, where he spent time as a prisoner of war and a slave before becoming an adept of the Greater Path. After a year away, he finds his homeworld-away-from-homeworld a bit less welcoming than when he last saw it. Actually, there's an interdict against him, revoking his privileges as one of the Great Ones, who are above the law of the Tsurani Empire, and instructing anyone who sees him to turn him in or face really ugly consequences. Pug just wants to visit the library of the magicians' Assembly to look up a few things. But before he can do that, he'll have to turn Tsurani society upside-down... again.

Rest assured, you won't rest assured - in fact, you might lose a night or two's sleep over the shuddering horrors, the fierce battles, the suspense, the intrigue, the exotic scenery, and the awe-inspiring discoveries Arutha and Pug make during their separate but intertwined quests. One of the strange things about this book, unless you've grown used to it from reading these characters' previous adventure, is how it ignites the senses with a richly enveloping fantasy world (two worlds, actually, plus an endearingly science-fictionish bridge between them), yet it never loses the reader in thickets of scenic description or points on an imaginary map. Another strange thing is how this book places so many moving pieces on the board, allowing each an opportunity to come alive as a distinctive personality, yet never leaves one confused by the glut of speaking characters. There's so much in here, it should be hard to hold in one's mind - but it isn't. The farther its heroes stray in an increasingly vast and diverse world of oddities and surprises, the harder it should be to sense where, when, or if the story is going to end. But it isn't. Rather, the dramatic arc bends, if possible, more swiftly toward closure, even while the prospect of another great adventure breaks open.

I'm still a noob in the Riftwar series, so I have to admit, I'm already confused about how far into it I am - and this is only the second book. Or maybe the third. Exactly what constitutes a "book" in Raymond Feist's 30-odd-year, 30-odd-book fantasy universe seems to be a somewhat open question. By some accounts, Magician is one book, and therefore, this is the second book of the series; this seems to align with the author's intentions. But some U.S. editions split Magician into two books, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the internal divisions within Magician are designated as "Book I: Pug and Tomas" and "Book II: Milamber and the Valheru." Muddying the waters further, this book, apparently intended by Feist as the second volume in the saga, begins with a condensed synopsis of Magician followed by a title page saying, "Book III: Arutha and Jimmy." So which is it? Book 2 or Book 3? Silverthorn or "Arutha and Jimmy"? Aaargh!

Things go much smoother once the story gets underway. There is definitely a sense that Magician (apprentice and master) is a complete unit in the history of the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan - the conflict between them, mainly, with a broad hint at the end about a larger conflict that may soon rise up against both of them. It has a satisfyingly rounded story shape unto itself. Then the story of Silverthorn takes shape, not merely as the next page in one vast history, but as a second distinct adventure between the same two worlds. And even though it ends in a way that dovetails directly into the third (or fourth) volume, A Darkness at Sethanon, the dramatic shape of this book closes firmly and convincingly at the end. It makes me all the more eager to read what comes next.

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