Magician: Apprentice
Raymond E. Feist
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Get *Magician: Apprentice* delivered to your door! Magician: Apprentice
Raymond E. Feist
Bantam Spectra
Copyright 1992
485 pages
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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You're not taking much of a chance as a fantasy reader when you pick up the first book in an established series like the "Riftwar Saga" by Raymond E. Feist, which comprises at least seven books. You know that even if the first book isn't the best you've ever read, the author presumably has grown more accomplished with each succeeding volume. Plenty of people are reading or have read it (not necessarily a sign of quality in this age or any other, however), enough to convince a publisher that it's worth keeping the author in the fold and cranking out further volumes in the series. So a book like Magician: Apprentice is probably a fair bet for when you're in the mood to commit to a new series.

Curled Up With a Good BookMagician: Apprentice probably won't be the best book you've ever read, but will also likely pique your curiosity enough to keep you chugging onward through the "Riftwar Saga." Its world smacks of derivative, which of course is more than common in the genre: Midkemia (can you say "MID-dle Earth?") is populated with elegant, honorable elves; with stouthearted, stoutbodied pipe-smoking dwarves; with the occasional treasure-hoarding dragon; with the token good-natured, eccentric magician; with mad kings and brave nobles. The erstwhile hero is oddly named. Pug? I kept thinking of the smashed-in face of the dog breed bearing the same name, but presumably Pug, although small, is at least borderline handsome in human terms. Still, the story picks up momentum as you progress through it, making this series opener worth reading if you've got no better reading plans.

Pug narrowly escapes the embarassment of remaining unchosen on the day of Choosing, when masters of various crafts select adolescent boys of an age for apprenticeships. Kulgan, the court magician, selects Pug for his apprentice, having sensed some possibilities in this small orphaned keep boy. Pug attacks his new studies with a fervor, but some key to using his new knowledge evades him. On a day when he rides with the young princess Carline and she is attacked by marauding trolls, Pug's magic comes unbidden to the fore. The trolls die, the princess is saved, and the Duke of Crydee is grateful enough to bestow on Pug the rank of Squire and the title to Forest Keep. Pug suddenly finds himself landed, titled and the object of the Princess Carline's affections, the last being somewhat of a mixed blessing.

Pug gets little time to adjust to his new place in the world. A shipwreck blows into harbor, and Pug and his foster brother Tomas discover the vanguard of an invasion from another world. The Duke makes haste to deliver news of this utterly new and mysterious threat to the other nobles of the land and ultimately to the king. Kulgan accompanies the Duke, so Pug is allowed to come along. He gets permission for Tomas to come, too, and the boys leave behind their boon friend and Pug's rival for Carline's affection, Squire Roland.

Harried by the Brotherhood of the Dark Path (dark cousins to the elves) and the alien Tsurani, the Duke's party finds help from the elves and the dwarves as they travel. The Duke's plea for a marshalling of forces against the impending Tsurani invasion fall on surprisingly deaf ears, for the King grows increasingly erratic and the Kingdom of the Isles is fractured by the possibility of civil war. But when the Tsurani attack, rivalries and intrigues in the royal court are put aside for a time so that the Kingdom might meet the Tsurani threat with a unified front. The aliens are engaged, and years of never-ending war quickly bring adolescence to a close for Pug and Tomas.

Tomas is early separated from Pug and the rest of the Duke's party fleeing a wraith in dwarven mines. He is found by a courageous dwarf, but not before he's first found by a dying dragon who bequeaths Tomas an enchanted set of ancient arms and armor. Tomas is stranded with the dwarves by winter snows, and with the dragon's gift becomes a fighter of heroic proportions in the dwarves' battles against the Tsurani and the Dark Brothers, or the moredhel. Pug is captured by the Tsurani in battle and presumed dead by Squire Roland and Princess Carline back in Crydee. Roland and Carline's friendship grows into love, watered by their tears of grief and loss. The war against the Tsurani takes a fearsome turn when Crydee is attacked and nearly breached. The aliens show no signs of backing down; their need to conquer Midkemia is driven by the utter lack of metals on their world. And so the war rages on...

One disquieting thing about Magician: Apprentice is the ostensible hero's absence from the last third of the novel. Feist can get away with this because it's a series and the reader knows that Pug will turn up again in the next book, but having your main point-of-view character disappear from the action for a third of the story still rankles. Offsetting Pug's absence is the novel's close; the last three pages are perhaps the book's most interesting, hinting at Tsurani society and motives. It is these last few pages that ultimately will draw the reader on to the next Riftwar book.

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