This is the first book of the series, but some familiar characters surface as we revisit the world depicted in The Innocent Mage some ten years later. Karen Miller is a prolific and successful writer, also writing a more modern take on Fantasy with her successful and highly recommended Rogue Agent series under the pen name K.E. Mills.
The weather magic that holds Lur safe is failing, and the earth feels broken to those with the power to see. Among Lur’s sorcerers only Asher has the skill to mend the antique weather map that governs the seasons, keeping the land from being crushed by natural forces. Can he prevail against the ancient evil still simmering in dark corners of the kingdom – and the angry envy of the Doranen, who used to rule Lur? And no – that isn’t the whole of the blurb, or even what is actually written… Trust me on this – DON’T read the blurb, because if you do, you’ll compromise your enjoyment of a cracking book.
Yes, this is all about a gifted magic user from humble origins who’s been shoe-horned into a role that doesn’t suit him… sounds reasonably familiar, doesn’t it? And yet… it isn’t. Like other gifted and intelligent fantasy writers such as Charles Stross, Juliet E. McKenna and Kate Elliott, Miller is taking the staple fare of the Fantasy genre in a different direction. The notion that a Great Mage stands aloof from all around him as he buries himself in his magical studies goes up in smoke with Asher, who wants only to forget and bury his violent magical past. And as his children start to grow and show signs of magical abilities of their own, he is horrified. Both he and his wife, Dathne, are determined that their children shouldn’t suffer as they have – after all, Morg is now dead, so there should be no need for either Rafel or Deenie to learn anything other than the basic Olken magics that most folks use.
However, one of those children doesn’t want to turn his back on his magic – finds it irresistible, in fact. A large part of this book is taken up with the family tensions against a deteriorating political situation as Lur comes under increasing threat from the natural forces sweeping across the land. The claustrophobic ties of love, duty and resentment between parents and children are vividly played out as the story unfolds. Because while the terrible sorcerer Morg was killed, far too much of his evil blight still permeates the land.
In order for the story to really work, Miller has to make us both care and empathise with each of the family, which she does very effectively. The characterisation of Asher, in particular, is exceptional. He sings off the page, with his short temper, humour and drive to try and do the right thing. The dialogue is delightful and I really enjoyed the scenes between Asher and the highborn Council officials as he now reprises the role of Grumpy Old Man.
There is a but, however… by focusing on the emotional interaction between the characters, Miller has taken something of a risk in a genre generally defined by lots of action. And despite the fact that I thoroughly approve of her intentions, there is a section of the book where the constant quarrelling becomes a tad tedious and I was fighting the inclination to skimread. However, once the final storyline gets going and the action picks up once more, I found the ending both engrossing and shocking. And will be tracking down the sequel, The Reluctant Mage, just as soon as I can.