Review: The Prodigal Mage

Posted: October 11, 2010 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Karen Miller, Fantasy

Ten years ago Asher saved Lur from destruction. Now he and his wife Danthe, and their two children Rafe and Dennie, look forward to a more peaceful life, free of prophecy and fear.

No such luck. Of course.

The earth itself has become sick with turmoil–flooding, earthquakes, whirlpools–as a result of hundreds of years of magical manipulations. Asher worries he must use his WeatherWorking magic again to save the land, even at the expense of his own life. At the same time the most powerful mages of Lur turn their noses at Asher’s help, and instead seek their own way to escape a land in danger of famine. Unfortunately, Lur is surrounded by an impassible reef on the coastline and an even more dangerous blight across the mountains.

THE PRODIGAL MAGE (Amazon) catches up with Asher and Danthe from the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, THE INNOCENT MAGE (Amazon) and THE AWAKENED MAGE (Amazon), which are set 10-20 years before PRODIGAL. While it’s not necessary to read those two books in order to understand what’s going on, it will prevent a high learning curve about the world, the story, and the characters.

The main character of PRODIGAL is Rafe, Asher’s son, who has inherited his father’s unique mixed magic–that is, he has the magic of his own Olkin race which is subtle and nature-focused, and the Doranen magic which is not only much stronger, but dangerous. Asher, however, is afraid of magic and what it can do. He’s seen enough destruction and death caused by magic to last his lifetime, and as a result doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. But when his son is born with his own gift, he and Danthe block Rafe’s abilities so no one knows what he can do. Or how strong he really is in Doranen magic.

Rafe loves his parents, but he hates that his parents keep secrets from him. He hates that they stifle his magic. He doesn’t understand his parents, and they don’t understand him. It’s a frustrating dynamic how he can still love and want to honor his parents, but they can at the same time be blinded to their son’s needs as a result of their own fears. Then there’s Dennie, Rafe’s little sister, whose own powers take a truly unique form, but requires even more over-protection by their parents. Asher is still the common sense fisherman’s son, who’s bullheaded and yet soft-hearted. Danthe is still the fiery woman trying to make the right decisions. All of this is established pretty early on.

But like in the first duology, it all turns into blah blah blah.

THE PRODIGAL MAGE starts with Asher, who saved the world from destruction 10 years ago. It turns out the world isn't exactly safe yet.

I had hoped that Karen Miller learned from the mistakes in her first series. The beginning chapters of PRODIGAL were setting up to be a more streamlined and exciting promise, but by a quarter of the way through repetition and over-wrought emotion become a crutch for building tension. In INNOCENT and AWAKENED the repetition consisted of constant yammering about a prophesy that didn’t have much bearing on the plot. In PRODIGAL we read the same arguments between the characters in practically every chapter, and all the yelling and tears get old fast. I liked Asher in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, but here he’s a bitter old man, and Danthe has become shrill and overbearing. Rafe wanders around aimless and grouchy. It just wasn’t as fun to read. The conversations re-hash the same things over and over. The internal monologues are characters with one-track minds. Blah de blah de blah. Just get on with the story, already.

Not a lot happens in PRODIGAL, and like INNOCENT is fairly predictable, the book a big set-up for the sequel. Mostly this is because Rafe needs to grow up. He first has to come into his powers, otherwise he’s pretty useless, since he’s got no profession and his father won’t teach him magic beyond what he learns in school. The problems with Lur’s climate and landscape spend the entire book to reach a breaking point before anything gets going. And while it’s not uninteresting, it means that the tension has to do with a nebulous danger instead of the result of active plot, which hurts the story’s momentum. Then the novel ends with a cliffhanger. Again. Just like in INNOCENT. Would it kill the author to write the first book in a series in a different way?

What PRODIGAL and others of Miller’s books have going for them is the prose. Each PoV chapter, whether it be from Rafe’s PoV or his Doranen schoolboy nemesis Arlin, is flavored with their own ways of speaking and seeing the world. Add to this smooth flow and pacing and it’s easy to keep reading, hoping that perhaps the next chapter will move the story along.

But is it worth all this boring set-up for what comes next? Find out tomorrow when I review the sequel to THE PRODIGAL MAGE: THE RELUCTANT MAGE (Amazon).

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Not a lot, and what there is isn't very strong
  • Violence: An exciting scene where people are in danger or die, but nothing graphic or very violent
  • Sex: None

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