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Magician by Raymond E. Feist

Magician by Raymond E. Feist
4.5
Book Name: Magician
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Publisher(s): Doubleday
Formatt: Hardcover / Softcover / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: October 1982

Now, I must say that I am approaching this review with a certain amount of trepidation. For one thing, FF has reviewed it once before. For another, Magician by Raymond E. Feist is, without a doubt, one of the core foundational novels of the fantasy genre. In the BBC’s 2003 list of the top 100 books to read, this was one of the few fantasies included. From this list alone one can garner the amount of impact this novel has made on today’s readership and it is rightfully heralded as an icon amongst its peers today.

To begin with, this novel is ambitious. I went into it believing it to be another member of the overly large Lord of the Rings clone club. Indeed, it does bear a lot of the same tropes as expected in a pre-Game of Thrones market. It includes elves, dark elves, and dwarves; there’s a dark, dangerous, and hidden foe, as well as benevolent dragons, wizards, and ridiculously powerful artefacts that turn their wearers into gods. All of this is typical fantasy/D&D fare but it’s what Feist makes of his own universe that really makes this novel shine.

The series title (Riftwar Saga) is the initial indication of difference here. This novel covers the interactions of, and eventual war between, the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan; two separate planets that are connected by rifts in the fabric of space. These rifts are difficult to understand and seem to open at random but to the citizens of Midkemia they introduce an alien threat beyond their wildest imaginings. This is the first novel I’ve read which I believe I could actually categorise as science fantasy. It is this element that truly surprised me about the novel and distanced it completely from Tolkein’s works in my mind.

As I have said, this novel is ambitious, and the previous paragraph is a synopsis at its most basic level. For starters, the plot covers the events of a decade’s worth of adventure, learning, and warfare. The cast of characters is large and each one adds their own voice and relevance to the stories that unfold. Of paramount importance is Pug (winner of the award for stupidest central protagonist name of 1982) whose innocent and peaceful lifestyle is destroyed permanently when the rifts start to open. The pacing is sublime. Whilst the plot jumps between characters and years, none of it seems forced or contrived. There are no slow moments or instances of unnecessary dialogue; everything is there for a reason. In essence, the novel flows, and the way the plot develops through the many years of trials creates an ultimately real story. Simply put, at 681 pages, together with a host of characters, significant events and world-shaking revelations, this novel is just jam-packed with entertainment.

The strength of each individual story comes from the core crises regarding the conflict making the more atypical fantastical elements detract from that aspect. And when the plot finally ventures onto Kelewan and explores the Oriental-like culture of the Tsuranni it truly does come into its own. It delves into the underlying cultural expectations and environmental influences that have made these two races so different and explores the mentality and motivations behind each side of the conflict. It was fascinating to witness Pug’s interactions with these people, namely characters like Kasumi or Hochopepa, and to see how people with drastically differing world views can reach a point of mutual understanding and, ultimately, friendship.

The plot is astronomical and Feist’s imagination is incredible. His unique creatures all come with vivid appearances and many also operate within their own constructed cultures. How the novel progresses from the early coming-of-age chapters to the War and Peace-esque closing moments without seeming like two different novels is quite simply genius. I honestly cannot describe quite how large-scale, or indeed epic, this novel becomes, and how each character truly does stand out and make a difference.

There are a couple of minor problems with this Magician. The prose is noticeably weak, particularly towards the beginning, with long-winded sentences such as:

“The undead creature struck at the dwarf and only Dolgan’s battle-trained reflexes and dwarven ability to sense movement in the inky darkness saved him,” (p.182)

Or poor/repetitious word use such as:

“Several more wagons were standing beyond the machines, and a few of the strange beasts could be seen grazing beyond the wagons. Beyond the strange device, a mighty camp sprawled across the meadow,” (p.248)

These grammatical flaws did bring me out of the novel on occasion but ultimately didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment.

I did, however, find the growing relationship between the characters Tomas and Aglaranna to be quite unbelievable. The Valheru sub-plot may have contributed somewhat of an explanation but I still felt the overriding dynamic to be far-fetched. Actually I found Tomas’ storyline to be the least satisfying aspect of the novel. After being touted as a major character by both the blurb and the beginning of the novel, he seemed to lack the significant page time his apparent status warranted. Instead, as the novel progressed, increasingly more focus was given to other characters such as Arutha. What little was seen of Tomas seemed to be leading up to something on a grander scale than was actually the case, not to mention that his super-human abilities merely originated from wearing a magical suit of armour, rather than being the culmination of any meaningful character growth.

Throughout the course of Magician there were scenes that really did take my breath away. The siege of Crydee, Pug’s trial upon the Tower of Testing, the showdown at the arena, and Macros’ display of power at Elvandar to name but a few. The ending also added another interesting hint of danger which brought some unexpected tension to the closing pages. The element of a very visible foe in the Tsuranni, mixed with the invisible threat of the Enemy and the ever-present but unseen Guy du Bas-Tyra threw plenty of different challenges at the protagonists, adding layer upon layer to the plot and placing obstacles in their way that believably generated harsh internal conflicts to complicate their decision making.

All in all this novel deserves its ranking upon the upper echelons of the genre. It contains everything a fantasy could have: from the usual tropes, to the soul-affecting tales of survival and strife. One moment in particular was so touching that it forced me to blink away tears. It is filled with so many events, so much story and depth, and covers so much geographical and temporal ground, that it could easily have filled an entire trilogy on its own. It is phenomenally well crafted and the pacing is exquisite…and in all honesty I loved it to bits. I recommend it to all lovers of this genre and to everyone else as well! If a friend of yours is wondering what fantasy is all about then this might just be the novel to get them started.

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Rating: 8.9/10 (8 votes cast)
Magician by Raymond E. Feist, 8.9 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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8 Comments

  1. This is my favourite fantasy novel of all time. I was awed by its immense length and how the tale really goes past the point of no-return. The characters are something completely different by the time we reach the end, and I really loved the epic journey we’re taken on. I thought Tomas’ sub-plot wasn’t very satisfying either, although I still liked it in it’s own way.
    Great review! Wow, I’ve seen a lot of people review this lately. Did it get an award or what?! (Seriously. Did it? =D )

  2. Splicer says:

    I think Feist has been given short shrift by a good many readers and deserves a higher status. Magician was a breath of fresh air when I first read it back in the 80s. The worlds that Feist created kept me reading every book in the series to it’s recent conclusion. There is no perfection and, as you point out, there is a clumsiness to some of the writing. Overall, though, the book is a triumph of imagination.

  3. Justin Brown says:

    I agree with your criticisms, and sadly for me they were what disappointed me with this book, which has such a great reputation. I’m not a “hater” by any means, but it just didn’t do it for me. I’m glad that the book has its fans, though, and other people have found so much to enjoy here.

  4. mooderino says:

    Magician is an extremely enjoyable book, both original and providing many familiar (and welcome) tropes of the genre. The rest of the books in the series however are all abysmal. Poorly written and paced with all the trappings of a cash cow that is only there for the milking. I don’t mean not as good, I mean horrible.

    regards,
    mood

  5. Daniel Walker says:

    This is my favourite standalone novel that I have read and I love genre as a whole. Whilst I found the Tomas subplot to be the weakest also, I thought the subplot surround Crydee and Arutha was brilliant. It was refreshing to read about ‘the war’ from the periphery, which also makes the ‘Empire trilogy’, set on Kelewan a fantastic read as it explores the alternate society in exquisite detail with just enough references to the Riftwar saga to captivate the imagination.

  6. Mordecai says:

    Magician was one of my favorite fantasy novels in my latter-teens and early adult years. And while I enjoyed the Riftwar Saga, as well as the Daughter of the Empire series written with Janny Wurtz and co-located spatially and chronologically with the Riftwar Saga, I don’t think the other books in those series matched up. Unfortunately, as Feist continued writing more in the same universe and time, his books became stale and cliched, continuously recycling characters until they were less than caricatures.

    I gave up on Feist a long time ago. Which is what I’ve done with Brooks, Goodkind, Jordan, and others who write interminably long series with with overwritten plots and untenable story lines. Even Martin is coming to that point for me. Many of his characters begin enjoyable, sympathetic. But too soon they become stilted and I end up just wishing Martin would go ahead and kill the character to put him/her out of my misery.

    So many authors now write series, I fear they’ve lost the art of the self-contained story. The need to overwrite and fill in every seeming gap leads to horrible prose and terrible characterization.

  7. Jess says:

    Great review – i read this book only recently as well and found that once into it, the read become easier as there is a lot to get the head around in terms of plot and characters. I felt sometimes a little lost in the way Feist dealt with the passage of time, but really enjoyed the number of themes and interweaving plots that came about. I haven’t progressed to any of the other novels yet as there are a lot of them but the Magician did make we want to come back to this world which is a great thing.

  8. When I read “Magician” I received the note about ignoring his other works. I didn’t, and have no good memories left. The one fact i would like to remind of: Before the Internet & Wikipedia it all took more time, the typing at typewriters not even mentioned. But visiting libraries physically is really slower than having a browser-search to get basic tracks t least. 😉 Thanks for this detailed review.

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