A few spoilers from the previous novel, Magician: Apprentice, are scattered throughout this review
Magician: Master is the second novel in Raymond Feist’s best-selling Riftwar Saga. In my previous review, I gave Magician: Apprentice quite a hard time for staying so close to the standard Tolkien-esque tropes (dwarves, elves, etc.). I was not particularly eager to read Magician: Master; I already had a copy on my bookshelf, though, so I dove in. Luckily, Magician: Master ended up being an extraordinary novel, and it is the best follow up novel I have read in years.
When we last saw Pug, he was being held captive by the rift warriors known as the Tsurani. While captive, Pug’s magic is discovered, and the mysterious Tsurani mages take him captive. It is with these magi that Pug obtains a new name and truly unleashes his hidden power. Let us not forget Pug’s best friend, Thomas, who continues to hear whispers from the golden armor he found in the previous novel, nor Prince Arutha who is valiantly trying to gain reinforcements by sneaking into the famed city of Krondor. Of course, many other characters also enlist to stave off the Tsurani threat. While the two sides war with each other, a greater threat lies quietly in wait.
Feist does a brilliant thing in Magician: Master: he allows us to see the Tsurani home world through the eyes of Pug. It is fascinating to see the divide between the Midkemians and the Tsurani. We saw a bit of this culture clash in the first novel when the Tsurani were deathly afraid of horses. The difference between the two cultures is especially apparent when Pug sees that the Tsurani revel in arena combat, which is unheard of in Pug’s culture. It is these small details that really lend the book a sense of grandeur and importance. Cross-cultural studies have never been this interesting in the real world.
A bit of a side note: the most interesting aspect of this culture clash comes from each culture’s attitude toward wizards. As shown many times in Magician: Apprentice, wizards are not held in high regard by the majority of the Midkemians. This could not be further from the truth for the Tsuranis, who seem to afford the wizards a sort of deity-like reverence. It is always refreshing to see how one’s culture can color their views on all things mystical.
A fleshed out cast
I did not expect that Feist would develop the cast of Magician: Master as much as he did. The most drastic change, of course, is evident in Pug, mainly due to his time with the Tsurani wizards. Gone is the naïve boy from the first novel, and in his place comes a man of great wisdom and honor. Arutha, a personal favorite of mine, gets a bigger role. Throughout the novel, Arutha shows his bravery time and time again, but what is most interesting is his new lease on life and his carefree attitude. Many other characters are more fleshed out, as well; Carline, for instance, is far wiser, and Thomas seems to have developed a case of battle lust. If you enjoy good characters in a classical fantasy setting, I implore you to read this book.
A bit abrupt
My main complaint involves some of the ending scenes, though I will not go into great detail in order to avoid spoilers. Although the ending does wrap up this volume, it is unfortunately wrapped in a mangy bow. Many of the plot threads are resolved, but too quickly, and some of the moments that should have been emotionally taxing left a hollow thud because of their brevity. This abruptness appears to stem from the fact that Feist simply did not have enough pages to flesh everything out. The ending is not all doom and gloom, but it still left a sour taste after the delicious bits while I was reading it.
Why should you read this book?
I still hold the opinion that Magician: Apprentice was a bit too cliché, but Magician: Master exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The culture clash between the Tsurani and Midkemians presents a sense of anthropological delight that is lacking in my university classes. Almost the entire cast has been greatly fleshed out and improved upon. As noted, my only issue with the book is how abruptly some of the plot lines ended or began, but it does not detract from the novel much. Magician: Master is easily one of the best entries in classical fantasy. You must pick up this gem. Well, of course, after you finish reading Magician: Apprentice.