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Friday, August 31, 2007

"The Innocent Mage" by Karen Miller

Official Karen Miller Website
Order “The Innocent MageHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

In the UK Orbit is the largest Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher, responsible for bringing readers such authors as Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Laurell K. Hamilton, Tad Williams, J.V. Jones, Christopher Moore, R. Scott Bakker, Iain M. Banks, et cetera. Starting September 2007, Orbit is making its US debut thanks to Hachette Book Group USA, and are bringing with them a diverse blend of fantasy, science fiction and urban fantasy. Among the eleven launch titles, three books really caught my eye: Brian Ruckley’s debut novel “Winterbirth”, “The Electric Church” by Jeff Somers, and Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” which was the first Orbit US release that I had the pleasure of reviewing.

In a world ravaged by dark magics, a powerful mage named Barl sought sanctuary for her people and sacrificed herself in creating the Wall, a magical barrier that would protect the Kingdom of Lur from the reaches of the evil Morg. For over six hundred years, the two peoples of Lur—the Doranen and the magickless Olken—have lived in relative peace & prosperity with one another, but according to Prophecy, the Final Days are drawing near and only the Innocent Mage will be able to “save the world from blood and death”. Enter Asher, an Olken fisherman, youngest of seven sons, who travels to the city of Dorana in search of an honest income to help support his father and instead, ends up befriending the Crown Prince of Lur and becoming a valuable asset to the throne…and the unwilling pawn of Prophecy

Okay, so the overall plot is nothing to marvel at. In fact, it’s pretty generic stuff and if you follow any kind of fantasy at all, then you’re probably pretty familiar with a lot of the archetypes that Ms. Miller employs, including prophecy, an ancient evil, a Hero destined to save the world, a mysterious group known as the Circle whose job is to serve Prophecy, Monarch politics, Asher being a nobody and then becoming rich & famous, Asher falling in love with someone who can’t love him back because of duty, a hidden library full of ancient texts, recognizable magic concepts, and so on. Fortunately, it’s not all run-of-the-mill clichés. There’s Barl’s First Law, a cardinal rule that states no Olken may practice magic under penalty of death, which is just one of the variables behind the tension/prejudice between the two peoples that comes into play throughout the book. Then there’s another rule where the ruling family can only have one heir, but because Prince Gar is “magickless”, an exception is made and he now has a sister, which causes some complications for the family especially towards the end of “The Innocent Mage”. There are a few other fresh ideas as well, but those are the ones that stood out the most.

As far as the cast, you have fisherman-turned-Assistant Olken Administrator Asher, Prince Gar and his family—King Borne, Queen Dana, Princess Fane—, Jervale’s Heir Dathne, her soul-sworn Matt, the Master Magician Durm, Gar’s Private Secretary Darran and his assistant Willer, none of which are that complex or original. In other words, the good guys are likeable and have few flaws, while the antagonists are easy to dislike. That said, the characterization is actually the strength of the book. Ms. Miller spends a lot of time developing her characters, is quite good with dialogue and conveying one’s thoughts & emotions, and has a knack for distinguishing each personality. In particular, Asher is a short-tempered, forthcoming individual best characterized by his distinctive accent. While the lingo/slang can get a bit annoying, I was impressed with the effort that Ms. Miller put into this and thankfully the accent becomes less of an issue as the book progresses. My only real complaint was the haphazard manner in which the narratives were presented. Aside from Asher and Dathne, it’s not readily established who the main characters are and who the supporting cast is, and there are long stretches where certain characters just seem to disappear. Also, a few narratives like that of Darran & Willer seemed to bear no importance whatsoever to the story, unless the two happen to play an important role in the second part of the duology ;).

Overall, Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” has its share of drawbacks: The story and characters are not that creative. The book is on the long side and is notably lacking in the action department. The worldbuilding is a bit sparse despite the obvious time & effort Ms. Miller took in establishing the Kingdom of Lur. And the novel as a whole likes to play it too safe never venturing beyond PG territory. Specifically, there were a lot of prospective conflicts involving certain characters in the book like Darran, Willer, Conroyd Jarralt, etc., that never reach their potential. Despite all of this, I happened to like “The Innocent Mage” and thought it was a fairly enjoyable fantasy. In addition to the characters, I was most impressed with Ms. Miller’s writing, which may have not been that stylish, but was engaging, and for the most part, technically proficient. I also really liked the jaw-dropping, cliffhanger ending. Thankfully, we only have to wait a month to find out what happens in “The Awakened Mage” (October 1, 2007) and to see how the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Duology is concluded. In the end, if fantasy’s your thing and you don’t mind treading over familiar ground, then Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” is definitely worth a look and might be better than you expected…

FYI: Karen Miller is based out of Australia and actually debuted the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Duology in 2005 before it was released earlier this year in the UK and now the US. Ms. Miller’s other books include the Stargate SG-1 tie-in novel “Alliances” (2006) and “Empress of Mijak” (June 2007), the opening chapter in the author’s new Godbreaker trilogy, which sounds very promising, but unfortunately, is only available to Australian/New Zealand readers at the moment. Hopefully this will change soon :)


Chris, The Book Swede said...

Glad you liked this one =D I felt much the same way: nothing new, but still really very good. Looking forward to Awakened Mage.

Nice review, as usual.

The Book Swede

Robert said...

Thanks :) I'm looking forward to the sequel as well. Should be quite fun!

STEFAN M— said...

Is it me or is the cover "somewhat inspired" by this book you reviewed some months ago? Great minds, I guess.

Robert said...

Hmmm. That is interesting. I might have to look into that ;)

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