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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"The Sentinel Mage" by Emily Gee (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The Sentinel Mage" HERE
Official Emily Gee Website
Read FBC Review of TheLaurentine Spy

INTRODUCTION: In 2009 I raved about The Laurentine Spy by New Zelander author Emily Gee, a novel that still remains treasured in my memory almost two years later. So when I found about her new fantasy, a series debut no less after two standalones, I was very excited and had very high expectations, considering that I included the novel in a spotlight with two of my top five expected titles of 2011.

I liked the announced cover, while the blurb below was pretty generic and actually it turned out to be only partly accurate. However while the style of the novel was all I wanted and kept me reading, the content lacked depth badly and the book turned out to be a disappointment at least as my lofty expectations went, though further installments in the series may turn it around for me if they move the series beyond a "kill your enemies, get to the target" video game plot.

"Her magic may be the only thing that can save a prince—and the Seven Kingdoms. In a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld of Osgaard, a prince with mage’s blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head—and assassins at his heels. Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld’s side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him. But the deserts of Masse are more dangerous than the assassins hunting the prince. The curse has woken deadly creatures, and the magic Prince Harkeld loathes may be the only thing standing between him and death."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The series that starts in The Sentinel Mage takes place in a fairly standard and non-specific pseudo-medieval setting with kingdoms, magicians and fantastic creatures. There are two continents, the Allied Kingdoms one, that accepts magic and nurtures it from young age - the Sentinels of the title are the most powerful such magicians and they uphold and enforce a strict code to avoid abuses etc, etc. Some sentinels are powerful shapeshifters, others can wreak havoc with fire, others can heal, some being able to do almost all...

Across the water in the Seven Kingdoms magicians - denigrated as witches - are killed on sight and the smallest taint of witch-blood ensures death if found. There is the bad powerful king, leader of the bad powerful kingdom Osgaard, which has swallowed its neighbors as time had passed; the current king Esger is as nasty as it goes, abusing his children, murdering his wives, you know the spiel from the "guide to write canned fantasy" that is consulted in so many genre offerings...

There is a twist though - some centuries ago a powerful magician did not go quietly to his death and enraged by his family's murder he put a curse on the Seven Kingdoms, curse that laid dormant since then, while of course it has just resurfaced as the book starts. In another cliche from the guide above, said magician is regarded as a one-off evil by his fellow over-the-water magicians who live safely in their land and they really want to do something, but are not quite sure what and how since the curse needs to be broken by a person who has both the blood of the bad royals in cause and magical blood and of course that person's hand and blood need to touch three remote and powerfully guarded artifacts...

And so it goes, with the blurb providing the rest you need to know with the additional detail that Prince Harkeld is accompanied by several Sentinel Mages who take turns at disguising themselves as his newly found, down on his luck non-mage bodyguard Justen, though the girl Innis - inexperienced but most powerful in memory etc, etc.. - is the one doing the heavy lifting as mentioned. And of course the prince does not even ask himself - at least in this volume - about the string of coincidences involved, but after all who needs a smart destined hero when a vain and mostly arrogant one would do...

There are two side plots, the most interesting involving the prince's beloved sister Britta and her "real" brave armsman Karel and enterprising maid Yasma, whose father plans to barter in marriage to a powerful duke - another disgusting, murderous boor etc, etc... This subplot had moments that reminded me why I loved the Laurentine Spy so much, but it is only a small part of the book, most being taken by the chase/kill enemies to get to first artifact above. And of course there are three artifacts and presumably three books etc, etc...

Despite all of the above, I enjoyed The Sentinel Mage more than the overview implies and I kept turning the pages - it's true that I kept hoping for something interesting, some twist, some depth - and that is the real "magic" of writing that the author has. The narrative flows well and you are compelled to turn the pages despite pretty much knowing what will be next and the banter between the main characters is entertaining quite a few times.

Outside of Harkeld and Innis, there is Petrus a young sentinel with a shine to Innis who takes the most turns as Justen when she is tired of keeping the changed shape or when she is needed in battle of for healing. So the triangle Harkeld, Innis, Petrus with one of the latter two playing Justen leads to many amusing moments and I felt a lot of sympathy for Petrus despite him being portrayed as stiff and uptight; especially considering that Harkeld remained an annoying whiner with occasional brutal tendencies to boot throughout...

The princess Britta is also very sympathetic and I hope that her story will take a more center stage in latter volumes. There are many avenues where things can go beyond the cliched one from this book and I hope the series takes some unexpected turns and acquires depth since the possibility is there
for sure, while the author's writing style is just wonderful.

The Sentinel Mage (B) is one of the few novels that I felt compelled to finish only because of the "magic of the writing", while the story was not only predictable but it was one that lacked much interest for me being the kind found in video-game novelizations or tie-ins and not what I expect from original work...



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