What if you were a commoner, a - to purloin the title Ė ďman without magicĒ in a world of sorcerers? How would you cope, when all you have going for you are your education and your wits? Thatís the premise of A Young Man Without Magic, the latest novel by acclaimed fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans and a promising start for his newest series introducing readers to the universe of the Walasian Empire, where each province is ruled by sorcerers and the social hierarchy is determined by magical ability.
Anrel Murau has a few further advantages that help him cope perhaps better than your everyday, run-of-the-mill commoner. He is the son of two sorcerers, now deceased, so he does possess some magic, though he hasnít passed the test to become a sorcerer and has no desire to be one: he believes that magic killed his parents. He has attended college, financed by his wealthy uncle, Lord Dorias. Thereís not really much call, though, for a job demanding the skills of a scholar, and the novel begins with Anrelís return to his home, the small village of Alzur, and his uncleís estate. Heís anxious to be reunited with his boyhood friend, Lord Valin, who has become a sorcerer - though not a highly skilled one - under the tutelage of Lord Dorias.
Despite these few advantages, Anrel finds himself with his fair share of problems to deal with. His friend, Lord Valin, and Lord Allutar, the landgrave (or main ruler) of the region, donít get along. Lord Valin espouses a populist point of view and believes that, given a chance, the commoners could rule over themselves as well as, if not better than, the Emperor and the sorcerers. Also, the son of the townís baker, Urunar Kazien, has been sentenced to death by Lord Allutar for stealing magical herbs from his garden.
One possible argument Lord Valin makes to try to save Urunarís life is that perhaps he stole the herbs because he felt he had magical talent, and that Urunar should be tested to see if he might be a sorcerer born to commoners. Lord Allutar rejects every argument that Lord Valin and Anrel come up with, though. If Urunar tried to practice magic without having his name on the list of official sorcerers, he would be guilty of witchcraft, an offense also punishable by death. Witches who practice magic, though they might be doing exactly the same things sorcerers do, are considered to be criminals, mainly because the sorcerers donít want any competition.
The antagonism between Lord Valin and Lord Allutar continues to build, culminating in a duel. Lord Valin is furious with Lord Allutar for putting Urunar to death then using his blood in a magical rite that will supposedly help the farmlands produce higher crop yields. He charges Lord Allutar with being unfit to be the landgrave, not thinking in the heat of the moment that this is tantamount to challenging Lord Allutarís right to rule. In such a case, a duel ensues, and the winner becomes landgrave.
Anrel takes a larger role at this point. He is Lord Valinís only second; Lord Allutar rushes the staging of the duel to prevent Lord Valin from sending for his sorcerer friends from the city of Naith to serve as seconds and influence the outcome of the duel. Extremely outclassed in magical skills, Lord Valin dies a gruesome death, his chest splitting open and his blood spraying up into the sky. Anrel, knowing no spells to bind or heal the wound, canít save his friendís life. He doesnít himself share Lord Valinís point of view, but he wants revenge on Lord Allutar for going to such lengths to silence his friend.
Anrel goes on the run for the remainder of the novel. He incites the people of Naith with a speech in the town square, wanting the words and thoughts of Lord Valin to live on, whether he believes them himself or not. His escape from the city, pursued by the Emperorís Watchmen, is one of the novelís most exciting and suspenseful parts. He meets and is aided by a family of witches when he sees a field burning. As he travels with them, Anrel becomes quite taken with one of the daughters. If he has to start all over again, it might not be such a bad thing, if only she would agree to be his wife.
This is not the end of Lord Allutarís role in the novelís plot. Anrel will have to rely on all of his intellect and ability to think on his feet the next time he meets up with Lord Allutar, who is a most dastardly villain. Mentions that Anrel is ďa young man without magicĒ are perhaps repeated one or two times too many; since thatís the bookís title, restating it more than once seems unnecessary. This is a relatively minor complaint. I was impressed with A Young Man Without Magic and look forward to reading future books in this series.