Feist is one of my husband’s favourite writers. He loves classic high fantasy and he’s banged on to me about the Riftwar Cycle for our entire relationship. That’s five long years of “YOU SHOULD READ THIS,” and me all like “Eh, I dunno, sure, one day I’ll start it, I’ll get around to it soon, it’s on my list…”
High fantasy isn’t my favourite genre, and there are 30 – yes THIRTY – books in the complete Riftwar Cycle series. That’s far too much sword-wielding and arrow-shooting and century-long wars for my liking. I was convinced that I wouldn’t enjoy the books as much as he does, but I promised I’d give the first book a go and try to see what the fuss was all about. So, I cracked on with Magician in the middle of December and here I am now, still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.
Magician tells the story of a Pug, an orphan teen who lives in a quiet outpost called Crydee. He begins an apprenticeship with Kulgan, a master magician, but it soon becomes clear that he has special talent when it comes to wielding magic. All of a sudden, the Kingdom is at war with the Tsurani, an alien race who have come from a whole other world via a magical rift. And Pug gets all caught up in the drama. The story spans decades and incorporates a whole lot of in-Kingdom politics, a shit-tonne of gory battles, some sweet love affairs, and an adorable firedrake who, in my humble opinion, didn’t get anyway near as much page-time as he deserved.
My problem with high fantasy is that there’s always too much going on. My preference is for intense stories focusing around a couple of main protagonists and plotlines. In fantasy, the plotlines are vast and complex; there’s a million different things going on all at once and I find myself getting fed up trawling through scenes with scenarios and characters that aren’t key to the main plot. I really liked Pug in Magician and I would have loved the story to focus primarily around his journey, but it leapt about between different characters so frequently that I lost interest at several points and almost considered giving up more than once. Don’t get me wrong, I think fantasy writers are absolute geniuses to craft such vast and vivid worlds and to juggle multiple different overlapping threads within one epic saga, but that style of storytelling isn’t my favourite to read. I find it exhausting; I struggle to completely lose myself in a story that has so many characters I lose track.
None of this means to say I didn’t enjoy Magician at all, because I did. I grew attached to many of the characters, notably Pug, Kulgan, Arutha, Martin, Amos Trask and Laurie. However, too many of the other characters were too bland or similar for me to connect with. I found myself frequently asking my husband to remind of who was who when I came across names I didn’t recognise. I really enjoyed the overarching plot – the war against the Tsurani and the final conflict and resolution. But I didn’t care for all the squabbling between dukes and princes, and the lengthy swathes of dialogue detailing the complex history of the Kingdom. I know that that’s all part of the experience – part of the epic worldbuilding – but it’s just not my cup of tea. I felt bombarded by unnecessary details when all I wanted was juicy plot.
So, it’s a mixed review for Magician, much to my husband’s disappointment. I am invested enough that I’ll read the next two in the opening trilogy, but beyond that I’m not so sure. And, once more to hubby’s chagrin, I won’t be reading every single book in the series back to back… He can’t understand how I can flit between different series when I could read a full one all in one go. But I can’t understand how anyone can read the same series of books with the same, style, characters and setting for months on end and not get fed up. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.
I’m not cut out to be a fantasy buff, but at the very least Magician has encouraged me to dabble in a genre that for so long I was convinced I would wholly dislike. And that’s a win in my book.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com