A Blight of Mages

Written by Karen Miller
Published by Orbit in 2011

A little while ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Elantris, an excellent book which posed the question of what happens in a magical kingdom when the magic goes awry and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. A Blight of Mages answers a variation on the question- what happens when a kingdom’s magic starts breaking down?
Blight of Mages is an interesting book. As I just mentioned, it poses an interesting question. It also provides a potent social commentary with the two main characters being poles apart in terms of background and only forming a match in magic terms. The female lead, Barl, is one of the kingdom’s working class, creating clocks for the wealthy alongside a few dozen others in a kind of workhouse that’s familiar to those who’ve read some Victorian history, if it’s somewhat cleaner. However, she’s frustrated, as an exceptionally gifted mage, she wants to get out and change the world. Two things stand in her way: lack of access to ‘The Academy’ where much mage-lore is stored and her class, with no powerful family backing her, no-one will allow her to use her gifts or respect her talents. At the other end of the scale is Morgan Danfey, one of the ruling class whose only magic is almost unrestrained and is blessed with all the wealth and power that Barl only dreams of. The only things holding him back are his father’s insistence he finds a wife to replace his lost sweetheart and the council of mages who see him as a little too reckless for his own good. The reason for his recklessness, though, is a feeling he has. A feeling that magic is ending and the kingdom must be defended. You see, only their kingdom has magic. The surrounding nations of ‘barbarians’ are superbly talented as warriors, merchants and builders but none are mages, so are odviously uncivilized.

The book has a great premise and is well written, but there’s one key issue that stops me from praising it too much. Neither of the two main characters are actually that likeable, nor are many of the others you encounter besides Barl’s brother. Barl herself is just too needlessly angry and hot headed; yes, being oppressed is a reason to be angry but she comes across as purely petty in many ways, making it hard to empathise with her even as she does develop as a character. Morgan is the same; an interestingly flawed character with his own reasons for frustrations and hurts, but overall his overbearing attitude makes him hard to relate to as well. Whilst this is compensated for in a good way due to the interesting world and a realistic populace, the brashness (and, later on, the sheer perversity) of the main characters stops the book from becoming the classic that it could have been.

There’s also a lesser flaw in that the magic, whilst magic admittedly, doesn’t feel that… logical, to me. I know that’s an odd thing to say but the actual working of magic in this world don’t feel as well set out as it does in others, such as, for instance, Codex Alera or even the Warhammer universe. Perhaps it’s explained in the other two books in the series, An Innocent Mage and Prodigal Mage, however this book, being the prequel, might have spent a little time to introduce those of us, like myself, unfamiliar to the world.

To sum up, the book’s actually like its characters. Good in places, quite innovative and interesting but strangely hard to like.
Until next time!
Kerl

Review | The Ambassadors Mission by Trudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan “The Ambassadors Mission” Review

With the war over, what do you do with the peace? The Nation of Kyralia has had its society changed by the war, from the lowest peasant to the mages to the politicians. This is most marked in the city of Imardin, where the former purges or forcible removing of the “Lower Class” have been stopped and people of lower birth with the right skills can now join the magicians guild. With this social change comes a new problem, the spread of a mind altering drug called Roet which is stretching its tendrils to stalk the upper and lower classes alike. Amongst this, the cities Thieves, a group of smugglers, merchants and racketeers of varying backgrounds and amounts of honour are being picked off, one by one, by a foe only known as “The Thief Hunter”.

And that’s without even looking into relationships with the former hostile nation…..
This is the shifting background to The Ambassadors Mission, the beginning of a new story arc following on from The Black Magician Trilogy. And all of the above is gleaned by reading the book, without breaking the flow of action or plot, as I’ve not read the Trilogy.
The tale encompasses all of the above threads, winding them together with a great cast of characters who all have well expressed personalities. There’s Cery, one of the Thieves who is trying to stop the Thief Hunter before the man stops him for good. He’s presented as a lively man, in the late prime of his life who delivers the story from the city street level.
Sonea, an old friend of Cery, was destined for a different life. The events of the war plucked her off the streets and placed her into the halls of the magician’s guild as one of the rare “Black” or “High” magicians, who work by drawing power off other people. At least, I think that’s the case. It’s one of the few things that doesn’t come through that clearly, sadly. Anyway, having reached the guild, she’s working hard to improve the lot of those she left behind and provides the story with its section of magic and intrigue.

Furthering the intrigue is her son, Lorkin, who is going to assist the latest ambassador to Sachaka, as well as historical uses and forms of magic. However, he has a problem, in that he’s the son of the man who defeated Sachaka in the last war…. Finally, the ambassador also has his own flaw- he’s a “Lad”, or homosexual, posted to a country that frowns upon the concept of love between men….

With such a diverse and interesting cast of characters and the plot twining the fates of two detailed, interesting and fundamentally different nations, The Ambassadors Mission proved to be a true page-turner of a read with well paced and described action, intriguing politics and excellent story telling throughout. I found the book an excellent read, and I’m strongly inclined to go back and read its predecessor which, coincidentally, is previewed at the end of Lord of Fire and Air which I aim to review shortly!

Regards to all,
Kerl

Review | Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing

Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing

“Biff!” “Bang!” “Whap!” “Pow!”
Welcome, gentle reader, to this review of Al Ewing’s Gods of Manhattan, a glorious, violent and action-packed Steam-Punk tribute to superhero fiction! Superhumans, masked swordsman, secret cults, Lady Ga-Ga tributes, sidekicks, fast cars, ancient goddesses and more can be found in this storming little tome.

The book follows on from the events of “El Sombra”, with the arrival of that books titular hero sword-wielding hero arriving in a Manhattan as part of his relentless quest to destroy the Nazis wherever they may run and hide. Arriving in the city, he discovers that he’s not the only shadowy hero at work.

With an almost god-like status, and physique to match Doc Thunder is an idle of the American people and the city of Manhattan, casting down the evil-doers with the aides of his super intelligent friend doc and his beautiful and deadly partner Maya, an ancient Jaguar Goddess. Doc is a hero in the classical sense of the term, defeating the villains but not taking lives, unwilling to fall into the darkness that mars his creation.

Lacking the same moral compulsion is the Blood-Spider, an altogether more sinister figure who draws the shadows like Doc draws light. Killing with excellent precision, riding in a fast car driven by a beautiful woman this vigilante stalks the city gaining approval with those who think the criminals should face a bullet rather than jail.

The lives of all three heroes collide spectacularly when a man who is already dead dies, drawing them together to aid and abet each other as they try to unravel the mysteries that the death throws up and the secrets it might bring to light for all of them and the world to see.

Whilst I’m not a big reader of hero fiction, I know enough to see the characters who have inspired the three mentioned above and I’m sure that a true fan of Marvel or DC would appreciate it even more. The book is a glowing tribute to all classic superhero fiction but, at the same time, an inventive and original story the brings together staples of comic-books and casting them through a dark mirror into a grim world that still makes you smile with dark humour from time to time. Al’s writing style ads to the ambience, styled to deliver the maximum amount of world detail (to the point you can practically smell the steam or feel the wall under the Spiders gloves) whilst not breaking narrative or the driving action.
To anyone wanting a thrilling read where the plot twists and turns with the pace of a roller-coaster, this book is for you!
Until next time!
Kerl