So my uncle drops by one day when I'm not around, I come home and there is this torn up, stained, dog eared, frankly diseased looking novel sat on top of my electric heater. The word Magician emblazoned upon the front cover in a hearty purple at the top of a robotic, orderly building that could be some sort of new age castle, but who can be sure?
I don't know why, because the cover hasn't really stood the test of time, but I like its design. There's something about reading a near broken, thirty year old novel that smells like decay. It suits me better than a new book I think. I drop him a quick text to say thanks and get stuck in a few days later.
At first I was wary. Dwarves, elves, men, dragons and magicians, anything that uses these races is always going to get compared to Tolkien in my mind. Almost like a prejudiced auto reaction to anything even vaguely middle earth like. It also had the classic fantasy stock character, ie, a young male with epic magical potential gets ready to embark on a quest half way across the fantasy world, learning as he goes and becoming a man. So I also compared it to books like David Eddings' Belgariad albeit briefly. More a passing thought than anything.
But I will say that these comparisons proved only to be superficial. The story comes alive with the introduction of the Tsurani and the second world Kelewan. From then on out it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride. The story of the main characters in their journey from young boys to experienced men goes the extra mile in scope and ambition. Both worlds are given just the right amount of description and attention to keep the work from unraveling. It’s hard enough to create one fantasy world, never mind create a second in the same book and manage them both well enough that the reader stays gripped. It is easy just to go a little bit too far and bring a great work crashing down.
It is refreshing that something can still cut through my cynicism and light my imagination. Yes there were parts of the book where I was left wanting. Some descriptions of action scenes that wanted to be tense, felt a little rushed. Some sections were overly long and in need of a good edit. But then this print is 831 pages and the book has since been cut in two and edited down in later editions, so I read a somewhat raw version.
But then I also think that the loose structure fits at the same time, it facilitates the imagining of the worlds. There is the danger with fantasy writing of being overzealous and trying to detail everything; to have everything perfectly ordered and neat and it can kill an idea. The good ones are always the ones that lead you onto the bait a little bit, but let you do the rest of the work yourself, let you as the reader imagine the world in the way that you want and not be lead along like it’s a paint by numbers.
There are a lot of characters as is usual in these epics and perhaps they could have been developed a tad more. People like Kulgan, Dolgan and Carline sort of fall by the wayside a little when at one point it looked like they would be staples of the novel. Similarly Arutha doesn't look set to become a strong character at first, but then is catapulted into the story to break up the Pug/Tomas sections as Feist leaves them on cliffhangers to annoy us all and build tension. It’s all a little free form. I guess I'm used to more organization and perhaps I am being picky, but I did feel that some characters were neglected. I had all but forgotten about Dolgan and Carline until the end of the novel.
It is an imaginative, engrossing work and I can see why it is highly regarded in epic fantasy circles. It brings more than enough to the table to stand alone as original and its one of those that just seems to feed you what you want and need, leaving you feeling full and satisfied as it draws to a close. I smiled as I read the last page and immediately text my uncle asking if he had the others in the series. Sadly he took Magician off me before I could get a picture, and sadly it looks as though his old copy of silverthorn has been lost and replaced by a recent print, but I love the cover of A darkness at Sethanon. I honestly can't wait to devour the next two, happy reading.