Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A boy named Pug

Let's start off with the pros, followed by the cons, then we'll move on to my thoughts.

Pros: Surprisingly good story, considering the tropes involved. Nice pacing. Enjoyable characters and an exciting plot and twits.
Cons: Would've liked more information about Crydee and the Duke. While the characters were enjoyable and fairly deep, some just seemed to blend together or we a tad bland. Would've liked a bit more attention focused on some.

Thoughts: First off, here's the plot (roughly): The novel's plot, while seeming to start out as the standard "orphan destined to become a great hero and oh look, a wizard with a long white beard" type of fantasy story, it quickly morphs into something else. The plot is actually about two worlds. On one side, you have Midkemia, home of Pug and the rest of the heroes. On the other, Kelewan, home to the Tsurani, a warrior race who forged an empire on their world. Through the use of magic rifts (portals, basically), the Tsurani discover Midkemia and decide to conquer it.

Hit the jump for the rest, but beware of spoilers.

The reason why the Tsurani wish to conquer Midkemia is for one simple reason: Resources. Specifically, metals. Kelewan lacks metals either in abundance or at all. They also have neither horses nor an equivalent to a horse, meaning that their entire army is infantry-based. The way they adopted to the absence of both is pretty remarkable. The Tsurani developed ways to make leather armor that's as tough as chainmail and wooden weapons that are as strong and sharp as steel. They also employ ant-like creatures called Cho-Jas. They're as intelligent as the Tsurani and seem to be consider equals or near-equals.

As I mentioned, Apprentice isn't focused on Pug and it really isn't even about him, at least not totally. The first part of the book is and we see him meeting the magician Kulgan, then becoming his apprentice. Pug is a slow learner, owing to some sort of mental block that keeps him from using magic. Things change for him when he rescue Prince Carline, the daughter of Duke Borric, from a group of trolls, using magic. Being in mortal danger causes the blocks to temporarily drop and he casts a spell he read in a scroll days prior and kills the monsters. Kulgan later points that what he did should have been impossible and that Pug's talents are unheard of. In any event, for his heroism, the Duke raises Pug to minor nobility and names him a squire to his court. A nice fallback in case the magician career track doesn't pan out. He also gains the affections of Carline.

We see Pug grow and develop throughout the book until the focus shifts away with the arrival of a wreck ship and its sole survivor from another world and Midkemia is introduced to the Tsurani. From then on, the bulk of the novel follows Duke Borric, his youngest son Arutha, Kulgan, Pug, his friend Tomas, and several others as they travel throughout The Kingdom, spreading the word about the Tsurani and their probable plans for an invasion. The journey is fraught with peril, starting with an ambush of the party and its fifty soldier escort by the Brotherhood of the Dark Path aka dark elves. The main party and a scant few soldiers (led by Sergeant Gardan) escape to the mountains and after coming under attack by goblins, are rescued by a dwarven patrol, led by a chieftan named Dongal. He then leads the survivors (sans the sick and wounded soldiers) through an old as balls mine, whereupon the party is attacked by a wraith and Tomas is cutoff from the others, who are forced to abandon him. Don't fret, for Dongal goes back to get him after seeing the party off towards the nearest human free city. He finds him, they meet a dying dragon, and he gifts them both as thanks for staying with him while he dies and then granting him sweet release. The dwarve gets a fabled hammer of his people and Tomas gets some magical armor, helmet, shield, and sword.

After this, Pug and company travel by sea to Krondor, a sub-kingdom (I guess you call it that?) that, from what I can tell, makes up a significant portion of The Kingdom. They make a brief stop on at a place called Sorcerer's Isle to make repairs and Pug, Kulgan, Gardan, and Meechan (Kulgan's aide/servant/broheim) keep Macros the Black, one of, if not the most powerful of all magicians. At visiting Krondor for a time, they then make their way to Rillanon, capital of The Kingdom of the Isles, which is the full name of The Kingdom, even though the majority of the actual kingdom is based on the mainland.

Unfortunately, King Rodric IV is a bit insane and more concerned about civil engineering projects, city planning, and whatnot to assemble the armies of both the western and eastern halves of the kingdom, and too paranoid to give command of even the western armies for fear that they'll be used against him. It's only after word of the Tsurani invasion and early victories that Rodric relents and gives Borric command of the western armies. The party then returns home to fight the war.

That's when things get interesting and we're hit with a twist that I never saw coming. Doing a scouting mission, Pug is captured and enslaved. After that, nothing is heard from or about him for the rest of the book. He's in the next book, Magician: Master, but for the rest of Apprentice, nothing. Instead, the story shifts primarily to Arutha and Roland, a squire in the Duke's court and friend and rival of Pug for Princess Carline's love. The rest of the book is concerned with repeated raids by the Tsurani on Crydee, the capital of Borric's dukedom and their eventual siege of the castle. I enjoyed this part a lot, because it had lots of action and fighting.

As for Tomas, his current whereabouts are also revealed. After leaving the mine with Dongal, he joins up with the dwarves and fights the Tsurani, who want the dwarves' mountains and mines for their metal and not surprisingly, end up fighting the latter often. Tomas is wearing the armor and weapons the dragon left him, but it's revealed that while they turn him into an incredible fighter during battles, they're also affecting him in other ways. First off, he's seeing and hearing things. Things that are implied to be from days long past, possibly memories of the previous owner. Second, his physical appearance is being changed and altered, with him growing and filling out the armor, while subtle changes to his face also occur. Anyway, after a failed ambush and barely escaping one sprung by the enemy, Tomas, Dongals, and the survivors of their war party escape the mines and flee to the forests, towards the home of the elves, Elvandar. After that, the story shifts to Arutha and Roland.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Magician: Apprentice. I read the first hundred pages the first night, which hardly ever happens, and just generally tearing through it like dysentery through an army encampment. The cons I mentioned at the start are balanced out by the pros. I'd highly recommend picking it up.

Rating: 10/10.

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