Magician: Master: Fascinating world and characters hampered by lazy plot

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMagician: Master by Raymond E. Feist epic fantasy book reviewsMagician: Master by Raymond E. Feist

Magician: Master is the second book in Raymond E. Feist’s widely acclaimed RIFTWAR saga. In Magician: Master, we follow the life of Pug four years after he is captured by the Tsurani and enslaved in the Empire of Kelewan. Pug’s homeland, Midkemia, and his new home, the Empire, remain locked in a deadly war that is gradually weakening both worlds. Though Midkemia’s elves and dwarves and still fighting valiantly, the conflict is slowly tilting in the favor of the Tsurani, especially since Kelewan’s black robed sorcerers joined the fray. Meanwhile, the Midkemian king has passed away and the throne is left to Prince Lyan, who feels honor bound not to accept the crown. What’s more interesting is Tomas’s love story with the elf queen Aglaranna, which is hindered by his internal conflict with the Dragon Lord. All in all, Feist’s intricate subplots combine to form a compelling, suspenseful narrative.

The first thing I noticed in Magician: Master was Feist’s intriguing setting. Midkemia is the functional equivalent of a feudal Western civilization, whereas Kelewan, a strict, honor bound society, is more akin to a medieval Eastern one. The two states exist in completely separate worlds, bridged only by the magic of the Tsurani magicians. What interested me were these lands’ histories and Pug’s criticisms of Kelewan, which essentially amount to an oblique critique of the gratuitous violence and convoluted politics that are commonplace in Kelewan. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the peoples of Midkemia and Kelewan share the same ancestors, magicians and people who stood against a great evil long ago. Thus, in a way, I enjoyed Feist’s subtle call for unity and peace.

Many of Feist’s characters are also realistic and understandable because he crafts them with distinct personalities and histories. For example, after Lyam is declared the royal heir, he feels honor bound not to become king. Lyam’s decision was completely in line with the judgments I had already formed about him based on his earlier actions, thoughts and plans, and other characters’ discussions of him. Feist also uses Tomas’s story to insert the history of Midkemia and Kelewan. After Tomas accepts his white armor, he begins to have visions about the Valheru, a powerful people who enslaved the elves millennia ago. Tomas’s internal conflict morphs into a full-fledged subplot and begins to affect his relationship with Aglaranna, who is terrified of the Valheru. Unfortunately, Magician: Master’s use of Pug and Macros the Black isn’t nearly as good.

Although the RIFTWAR saga is a coming-of-age story, Magician: Master doesn’t feel like a Bildungsroman because Feist omits the actual processes of Pug’s development. Instead of following Pug’s maturing in the swamps of Kelewan, the story simply skips four years of Pug’s life and presents us with an already grown up Pug. This happens again after Pug is sent to train with the Great Ones, the Tsurani wizards. Pug loses all of his memory and undergoes a change of character almost spontaneously. To me, this was lazy and unnecessary—I would have appreciated the plot much more if Feist had actually allowed us to follow Pug’s story completely.

There are shortcuts in the plot, too. At the end of Magician: Master, it is revealed that [to see spoiler, highlight text] the broken truce at the end of the novel between the good-willed Emperor of Kelewan and the Kings of Midkemia is orchestrated completely by Macros the Black, who turns out to be an almost omniscient sorcerer whose actions are “justified” by his knowledge that the portal between Midkemia and Kelewan has the capability of attracting an ancient evil. [End spoiler] This development was completely unexpected and annoyed me because it made almost half the plot seem like the machinations of a hidden puppet master. I don’t really understand why Feist chose to end the story this way, but I felt like it was completely unnecessary.

That said, this isn’t a deal breaker for me. While the plot did irritate me, I’ll probably still read book 3 of the RIFTWAR series as soon as I can find a copy. If you enjoyed the first book of the series, you’ll probably like Magician: Master as well.


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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is an undergrad at Columbia University. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea. This might just be because Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of the SFF genre at the ripe old age of 5. His literary tastes range from epic fantasy to military fantasy to New Weird, although sometimes he does enjoy a good space opera here and there, and some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. To Kevin, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he is extremely discriminating as it pertains to this last bit. Outside of his bibliophilic life, Kevin loves economics, philosophy, policy debate, classical music, and political science. You can find him at: www.kevinwei.me

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One comment

  1. 30 years ago this was one of my favorite series. The Tomas storyline was simply too easy for a young teen-age kid not to dream of. After all these years it remains a wonderful coming of age story.

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