The 1992 revision of Raymond E. Feist’s debut novel, Magician, book one of the Riftwar Saga, is an interesting epic fantasy that is perhaps too large in scope for its own good.
Beginning in the traditional fantasy world of Midkemia, the story follows Pug, an adopted boy whose Duke tasks with becoming a magician’s apprentice. When he and his friend Tomas discover the Tsurani, alien beings from Kelewan, Pug, Tomas, Duke Borric and a host march south to alert the rest of the kingdom. During their travels, Pug is sucked into the rift the Tsurani are using to invade Midkemia. In Kelewan, Pug must learn to survive the harsh realities of this oppressive world, while back in Midkemia Tomas and the kingdom struggle against the Tsurani.
When the story is good, it’s very engaging. For instance, the opening section depicting Pug and Tomas’ childhood adventures, the sea adventures of Prince Arutha, Amos, and Martin, and Pug’s journey from slave to magician. Sadly, not all of the novel is like this, with many drawn-out battles, lots of world description, and royalty processions that bog down the story’s pace. A few sections are even poor imitations of Fellowship of the Ring.
Feist uses third person omniscient point of view to narrate the story, jumping from one character’s head to another’s with skill. However, many of these characters’ roles are minimal, creating shallow characterisations. Feist also develops an unseen enemy within Midkemia who most characters fear. Yet, since this character never appears in anything but dialogue, his menace is rarely felt.
Feist also introduces too many elements, such as Tomas’ possession, that are not fully developed or are resolved too quickly. Those characters and scenarios he develops well, however, are a pleasure to read.
The world of Midkemia is well established and so is Kelewan to a lesser degree. Yet because Midkemia draws on many fantasy clichés, Kelewan is the more interesting world. Sadly, only a small portion of the novel is spent in this intriguing place.
Had Magician focused on Kelewan and its alien inhabitants, it would rate much higher. As it is, it comes across as a story that utilises too many fantasy-fiction clichés and is too vast in scope for its own good. This creates an interesting, yet unfocused novel. While it’s not a must read, fantasy-fiction fans will enjoy its more interesting elements.