The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

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The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Rich, traditional fantasy making a good use of all the ingredients of the genre, with strong characters, coherent world and enough drama to hold attention; this well told and entertaining debut comes recommended for fans of fantasy.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841496047

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The kingdom of Lur is a paradise on Earth, where the magic-wielding incomers Doranen control weather and perform numerous acts of minor everyday magic for the benefit of themselves and the native Olken, a people somehow subjugated though officially respected as partners in the old covenant, and forbidden magic on the pain of death.

The Doranen Weather Magic not only keeps the rain falling at night and prevents storms, earthquakes and drought: it also keeps intact the Wall protecting Lur from the unimaginable horror lurking behind, the horror which Doranen unleashed by their unmitigated use of magic and from which they fled six hundred years ago to seek refuge in the Olken country.

Asher is a young rustic fisherman, leaving his village to make his fortune in the royal city of Dorana: and, unbeknown to him but rather fitting with the fantasy archetype, to fulfil his destiny. The Circle, a secret cabal devoted to preserving the old and forgotten Olken magic is watching and gently guiding him, as only he will have a chance of saving Lur when the Wall crumbles in the Final Days.

The Innocent Mage, part one of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker dylogy is an example of a traditional sword and sorcery fantasy which is known as a rather derivative genre, and the skill here lies not necessarily in producing something of startling originality but in using the known tropes in a way that will make for a satisfying, compelling tale that holds together and manages to maximise the page count (and thus the time of entertainment it provides) while maintaining interest and, ideally, leaving the reader asking for more at the end.

The Innocent Mage does all that admirably: Karen Miller uses the genre toolkit with skill and flair, weaving her yarn with confidence and maintaining interest and drama while providing the reader with a cast of fully-fleshed characters and a well-developed world for them to inhabit.

It's all there: an innocent rustic unaware of his destiny but striding confidently towards it, scheming politics of the royal court, and outcast princeling born a magic-less cripple and scorned by his own kind but beloved of his magic-less subjects, an ancient law setting very strict limits at the magic, a memory of times when the power could be used unbound, and the destruction it wrecked, those yearning to remove the limits, a coming of age story with plenty of heartbreak and all of it against the backdrop of a world on a cusp of some - possibly catastrophic - change.

I liked the way the world was created: it seemed very believable that people hurt by unfettered use of technology (magic, in their case) would, after escaping self-made horrors, create a culture of exceedingly self-limiting character, with strong laws against creation of new magic and excessive use of the known one; a kingdom cowing behind a wall for hundreds of years with hardly anybody giving a thought to what could be this unimaginable horror lurking behind, a world united in - by - the terror of the wall falling.

In addition to a coherent world Miller also created quite a few noticeable characters: very human, rarely completely good or completely bad, with their failings and triumphs, foibles and peculiarities, distinctive but never caricatures.

The writing is confident, without unnecessary florid descriptions but without rushing action head-on either: time is given for psychology and for frequent vignettes of Lur's life that bring the novel's world closer to the reader. The dialogue is perhaps a little banter-heavy for my liking, and the use of an archaic-rustic sounding dialect in the early parts of narration concerning Asher (as well as dialogue) was irritating if done competently and justified by the plot. I was, however, glad, when he got rid of the worst excesses of his fisherman's speech.

The Innocent Mage reminded me most of the Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, which, although not technically fantasy, has the same themes of ritualised self-limitation of magic following disastrous overuse for military means, and similar attention paid to individual psychology. It has, however, significantly less violent gore, no sex and no particularly discernible feminist slant.

I don't read much fantasy nowadays, but I enjoyed all 600+ pages of the The Innocent Mage and I will most likely try to get my hands on the second instalment which - with admirable restraint in the world abounding in many-volume series - concludes the tale. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but a competent and compelling realisation of a well-loved paradigm. Recommended for all fantasy readers: ideal for a long rainy weekend at home.

Thanks to the publishers for sending this enjoyable tale.

Another rich fantasy along the classic lines TheBookBag rather liked was Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth, while those looking for a non-standard view may enjoy Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

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