John C Adams Reviews 'magician'
magician by Raymond E. Feist (Harper Voyager)
Raymond E. Feist is the internationally acclaimed author of nine bestselling fantasy series, but 'magician' is where his decades-long success story began. Originally published in 1982, a revised author's preferred edition was released in 1992. It is this version I am reviewing here today. In common with almost all authors' preferred editions it contains material deleted from the original publication but now reinserted at the writer's request to reclaim the vision they had of their story at the time of its acceptance.
Pug is an orphan earning his keep in the kitchens of Castle Crydee, home to the duke who is also cousin to the king. One day, he witnesses an odd ship appear out of nowhere and crash onto some rocks near where he forages for crabs to take back to the kitchens. The ship is unusual, and so is its crew, and Pug and the castle's magician Kulgan reluctantly reach the conclusion that it has come from another civilisation entirely unknown to them.
The early chapters cover Pug's adolescence, his selection as apprentice magician to learn the craft from Kulgan and his relationships with his friend Tomas, who will apprentice as a soldier, and falling in love with the duke's daughter Carline. War rips the trio asunder as the civilisation that led the ship to jump across worlds and appear suddenly in Pug's home town follow up that single instance of crossing the rift they are able to create using magic with a sustained invasion.
Tomas fights alongside dwarves and elves against the Tsurani invaders, finding his mind assailed with danger thoughts and anger as his consciousness merges with that of Ashen-Shugar, threatening to turn them both into the dark force that is the Valheru. It poisons his love for the elf queen Aglaranna, too. Meanwhile, Pug is captured in the war against the Tsurani and taken back to their home world, where is forced into slavery logging trees. His friends back in Crydee mourn for him, assuming that he died in the battle, and Carline is able to move on with a new love. Pug's fortunes turn for the better, enabling him to restart his magician's training, and the final clash between his home world and the Tsurani invaders presents an opportunity for him to find his way back to Crydee at last.
'magician' is really a 'sword and sorcery' epic. It covers twelve years and includes countless characters, many of whom fall in battle or in the internecine struggles for power between rival candidates for the throne that are an essential feature of the home world. However, it is also, in a rather low-key way, a 'sword and planet' story, albeit without the technological emphasis common to that subgenre via the interplanetary travel element. It could have been delivered as a story of invaders from another civilisation elsewhere on the same planet without much material alteration to the story.
All of the above is true of 'magician' as a long novel well placed within the 'sword and sorcery' subgenre. It contains precisely the features the reader would expect to find in a story of this type, and it delivers them in strong plot with believable characters and a convincing and satisfying ending. However, its unique charm (and perhaps the secret of its immense success as a debut novel and continuing popularity decades later) lies elsewhere. Every book has its own particular tone, and 'magician' has a whimsical, childlike, trusting way about it that makes it a delight to read. Pug is irrepressibly courageous through a difficult childhood, somehow emerging unscathed to fall in love with Princess Carline when he uses his emerging skills as a magician to rescue her from trolls one day when they are out riding together. Carline loses first him and then her next love Roland but still comes through strong and resilient. Tomas is lured into evil by the forces of darkness, only to be rescued and renew his love for the elf queen. Pug survives being enslaved and also falls in love on the Tsurani home planet. Its emotional pitch reminded me in some ways of the Belgariad series by David Eddings.
By focusing on characters from early adolescence and then chronicling their subsequent development across more than a decade, Feist sets a sincere tone in the early chapters that is carried across the novel as a whole. The characters first seen as children retain their trusting natures, believing essentially in the goodness of humanity and the value of loyalty to each other and to their liege lord the Duke of Crydee. This faith is not shaken by the many catastrophes that befall them. Our world can often be profoundly cynical, but 'magician' reminds us powerfully of the value that the fantasy genre has to offer the reader. The novel provides the reader with a portrait in optimism fulfilled. Considering all the many battles and other disasters, it retains its fairy tale feel throughout and is in essence a restful read.
As Feist himself admits in the 'Foreword to the Revised Edition', he breaks numerous rules of writing in this book. Happily, few of these are reinstated in the revised edition, and it remains a crucial part of 'magician's' appeal that it ignores these conventions because a sincere tale of childlike naivety and whimsy is told entirely without artifice.
In addition to the appeal of its natural tone, 'magician' is also an immensely ambitious story told with real confidence that addresses several thought-provoking themes. In its more than eight-hundred pages it portrays slavery as an institution on the Tsurani home world via Pug's point of view, and in its treatment of the arrival of an invading culture (albeit interestingly one that does not possess horses and has yet to discover metal, relying instead on hardened wood to provide weapons) it approaches themes of colonialism and empire.
From the legions of fans who have received so much enjoyment from 'magician' and continue to show it unstinting loyalty, I suspect that its primary attraction will always remain, and deserves to be, its sincerity. It is quite unlike any other work of epic fantasy I know in that regard, but it bears re-reading again and again not just for the detail of its invented worlds and compelling storyline, but also for its unashamedly whimsical vision of the world as it could be, if the people living in it could just be a little more trusting of each other.
Many thanks for joining me for the last of three posts this week on the theme of childhood. I'll see you next week for Why Not Wednesday. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thank you to photographers Christopher Campbell, Jasper Benning and Gabriel Kraus for providing the images for this blog via Unsplash.com.