REVIEW: Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher
Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day.
He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.
He was a very minor mage. Unfortunately, he was all they had.
Dear Ms. Kingfisher,
A while ago Sirius wrote a review of your book “Bryony and Roses,” which sounded interesting (though I’ll admit I haven’t read it yet). I saw this new novella for sale and since it sounded a little Halloween-y, I decided to try it instead. Yes, it does have ghuls and ghosts and (very minor) mages plus a talking armadillo but it got off to a teensy bit of a slow start.
So yes that beginning began at a leisurely pace. Young twelve year old Oliver is the only mage in his village and when he was training, his ancient mentor was a bit addled and sometimes forgot to impart the really useful stuff. But with his village in the midst of a drought, Oliver knows he needs to go and try to find rain. In true fairy tale fashion, Oliver is alone since his mother has left to help with family. Oliver feels more than a little miffed that the villagers don’t seem to realize or don’t care that he was going anyway. When faced with their (basically) mob mentality, he feels pushed instead of appreciated.
With his trusty armadillo familiar, Oliver sets off down the dusty road, past abandoned farmsteads, towards the shadowy forest, to try and find the mysterious cloud herders who are said to control the rain. Along the way, Oliver will have to be braver, more ingenious, and truer than he’s ever been if he, the armadillo and the person who helps him are to survive.
There is a lot of telling but not much action as this novella kicks off. There are lots of descriptions of what Oliver sees (dusty, abandoned farms, dirty water in ditches) and experiences (hunger, discomfort, resentment towards those who pushed him out on this dangerous journey) but in honesty this is probably what a twelve year old would eventually default to – “I’m hot, I’m hungry, the ground is hard, and I want to go home.” Unfortunately it does make the first part slow going.
Then Oliver is faced with his first challenge and it’s a hair raising one. I’m probably with the armadillo in wondering why Oliver didn’t recognize it immediately but he didn’t and has to run for his life. Then more obstacles to his quest appear and there’s more explanations and descriptions of stuff that their importance only became clear much later in the story. Some of it is a bit disturbing – child murder (off page), the inclusion of an take on a folk ballad about bones and chilling accusations, and another group ruled by mob mentality.
Oliver is young and, remember, a minor mage thus it makes sense that he’s not a sword swinging hero but without the armadillo, he’d have been toast. I guess the wry and sometimes impatient thoughts of the familiar are there to allow the reader’s frustrations to be voiced. Well, that’s the way it worked for me. Oliver is confronted with challenges he must overcome and (life altering/saving) decisions he must make. Oliver does some mental and emotional growing before the end. He does pay the price to get his rain (yes, he does, I’ll give that spoiler) and realizes that it is one that will leave a scar on him for the rest of his life.
In the end, everything comes together but this is a darker tale wherein sacrifices must be made and not everything is Disneyfied with happy singing birds and woodland animals. Though it’s listed as a juvenal story, I’d say it’s for older children at the very least. B-