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.