Magician: Apprentice (Riftwar Saga #1) by Raymond E. Feist

Raymond Feist initially wrote a long novel called Magician, the beginning of Feist’s bestselling Riftwar saga. Magician was considered far too long, and so it was split into two separate books: Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. This review is about the former, Magician: Apprentice.

The story begins when an orphan named Pug gets lost in a forest during a frightful storm. Pug is found by Kulgan, a powerful wizard, who senses a bit of Pug’s magical potential. Various events transpire, and Kulgan decides to take Pug as his apprentice. After he is accepted as Kulgan’s apprentice, Pug’s life becomes quite good—he saves a princess, becomes a squire, and becomes the town hero. Pug’s good streak is abruptly halted when he and his friend Thomas come upon a wrecked ship which houses a corpse and a magic scroll. Shortly after finding the ship, Pug is thrown into a fray between two worlds while trying to uncover the secrets of his magic.

A Tolkien-esque world
Magician: Apprentice
has all of the trappings of a typical fantasy novel: sure-footed elves, stout dwarves, and a mysterious orphan. There is even a time when the characters venture into a mine resembling the famed Mines of Moria from The Lord of the Rings. Fans of the myriad of Tolkien-esque worlds will greatly enjoy the attention paid to world-building.

The issue with sticking to this tried and true formula is that people have grown tired of it. Fantasy has expanded greatly since the release of Magician: Apprentice and some will find it hard to get past the generic bits.

A varied cast of characters
Magician: Apprentice
does not skimp when it comes to its character count. What is truly compelling about the large cast of characters is that we get to see the effects of the turmoil from the lowliest kitchen worker all the way to the rulers of the kingdom. This creates a situation where the reader can see the effects of the war from a micro and macro view.

The issue that arises with this large cast of characters is that it leaves little room for character development. Of course, Pug is developed well enough for the standard orphan boy, but not enough to be truly memorable. The other characters seem to lack some of Pug’s characterization. For example, Pug’s teacher is an accomplished wizard, but we do not learn much about his personal life and so he remains the mysterious magician that the reader vaguely cares about. I will not say that the characters are bad, per se; it is just that they seem like any other epic fantasy characters.

A twist on classical magic
Most of the magic that the reader sees in Magician: Apprentice is rather typical, but there is one portion of the magic system that is intriguing. As per the series title, the mysterious magic is the rifts that connect the two worlds together. What is intriguing about the rifts is how they spice up the battles and provide an air of mystery to the overriding plot. For example, the dwellers of the other world use the rifts for quick scouting missions. This use of rift magic sows seeds of discord throughout the empire, and it is interesting to see the characters’ reactions.

Why should you read this book?
As stated in the beginning of my review, this book is the first part of two, thus quite a bit is missing from the overall plot. It could be that all of the issues mentioned above are fixed in the second volume. As it stands, there are simply too many flaws that one cannot overlook if you take it as a standalone novel. There is not just doom and gloom in this assessment, though; if you are looking for a familiar Tolkien-esque fantasy, then you really cannot go wrong with this book. I will also add that this book can serve as an excellent introduction for those who are not used to classical fantasy. For those who have been spoiled by the likes of Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher, you might find yourself becoming bored of the reuse of Tolkien tropes.

About Cameron Harris

Cameron Harris
Many people think the old adage of being born a nerd is hyperbole, but if they met me, they would know it was true. I have been an avid reader of fantasy for many years now. While most college students find partying to be fun, I typically like being lost in the pages of a book instead. I also enjoy playing a copious amount of video games, and watching a lot of anime.

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  1. I have really fond memories of this series, but of course at the time I read them, the formula was a little less tired then it is, now. Nice review!

  2. I enjoyed reading your review, well written. I’ll consider this book as I browse the classical fantasy genre.

  3. “Fantasy has expanded greatly since the release of Magician: Apprentice”
    The book is old the formula wasn’t overused at the time…

  4. I appreciate your follow-up comment.  I read the original Magician (before it was split in two) about 25 years ago and loved it.  To consider this book as a stand-alone is not fair as it wasn’t written as a distinct book – so to say the “sequel” is outstanding makes me feel better about your review.  As another poster pointed out, the formula wasn’t particularly “overused” when it was written.  In fact, this book is much more accessible than LoTR (for good and bad).  I also loved ‘Silverthorn’ and ‘A Darkness at Sethanon’ to complete the original trilogy (though Feist’s later works are not nearly as good).  You are also correct that people that love Sanderson (and, Rothfuss, Brandt, Weeks, Lynch, Brett, etc. etc.) might find this book a little simplistic.  At the time, though, this book was great (and is still mighty good for those just entering the Fantasy genre).

    • Your thoughts are completely reasonable. I recently finished Magician: Master(and will be reviewing at some point), and loved it. I just felt as though Magician: Apprentice was not up to “snuff”. That being said, I still enjoyed Apprentice which is why I gave it a pretty good score(3.5/5 which is above average). 

      I am glad that Silverthorn and Darkness are also good, I cannot wait to get to them because Magician: Master was so good :). Do you have any other Feist recommendations? 

      • I really enjoyed the series he co-wrote with Janny Wurtz after the Magician series (Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, and Mistress of the Empire) which take place in Kelewan (I think Pug has a cameo or two…it’s been a long time).  Excellent stuff – at least back in the late ’80’s, early 90’s.  After that Feist falls into the trap of re-hashing his world without a lot new going on – so unfortunately I don’t recommend a lot after that (I’m finding Robin Hobb has fallen into that same trap).  

      • I don’t think you’ve met “Jimmy the Hand” yet.  A great, great character.  Enjoy!!!

  5. is there any news out there regarding a TV series or movie in the works for Raymond’s incredible story?

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