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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Master of the Five Magics

Recommended: Master of the Five Magics (Lyndon Hardy)

As the airplane bumped and wiggled ever higher, I saw it again: "loose." I flipped back a few pages; there it was again. "You paid too much for your editor," I said to an imaginary Lyndon Hardy (the author). Every instance of "lose" I had come across in the book had been misspelled as "loose." I had forgiven the occasional typos I'd found in the book, as it was a first-edition copy of Master of the Five Magics, but I had not expected to see one of the most common spelling errors on the internet replicated persistently in a book published in 1984. This was weird, but I'm glad I didn't let this little issue ruin my enjoyment of an otherwise great book.

The story is about a young man named Alodar, son of a nobleman who was stripped of his wealth and status. Alodar seeks to regain his father's lost legacy by becoming the Queen's Champion, but this goal can only be reached if he can somehow prove his worth to her (by saving her life or her kingdom, for example). As the story opens, we find him practicing the art of Thaumaturgy, one of the "Five Magics" of the title, in this effort. Enemies of the Queen have besieged her, and if Alodar can change the tide of the battle, perhaps he can win her favor.

Of course, nothing ever works out as nicely as the protagonist wishes, and Alodar's attempt at recognition is thwarted. Instead, he finds himself defeated and alone, but with a scrap of paper holding an alchemical formula of unknown worth. With the formula in hand, he decides to learn Alchemy. Perhaps with the potion or salve the formula creates, he can somehow impress the Queen. The story continues like this, with circumstance and Alodar's quest for recognition causing him to learn each of the Five Magics in turn, and taking him through many perilous and strange situations.

This was another nostalgia purchase at Book Buyers on my latest visit to California. Despite the editorial problems, I enjoyed the book even more than I did as a kid. I noticed some more weaknesses than I did then, an occasional line of stilted dialog and a predictable theme or two, but I caught and understood concepts and references that went over my high-school head (there is one particular physics-related reference that I found especially enjoyable on this read-through).

One thing that stands out in this book, and it is something that's advertised broadly on the jacket of my copy, is the "logical" magic system. The author put some work into the nuts and bolts of his magic system, giving each type of spellcasting some simple rules that define it. These rules thankfully aren't fleshed out in gory detail, but they give enough crunchy substance to the story's events to let the reader reason out how the magic works. I particularly enjoyed seeing the main character mix and match the different magical systems to solve his problems.

Lastly, I found the plot to be quite compelling. I read it during my interview trip to Colorado, and it kept me up late the night before my interview, repeatedly luring me away from important interview preparation. Thankfully, despite my lack of willpower, my interview still went well, so I could enjoy the rest of the book as my plane carried me homeward. And the book really delivered, ending in a spectacular fashion. There's a particular phrase uttered in the last 20 pages (you'll know it when you see it) that made me pump my fist and chuckle heartily, and garnered me at least one sideways glance from a fellow airline traveler.


Anonymous said...

I loved this book! The whole tenuous thread from one magic to the next could so easily have been broken.

Don't forget to check out the two sequels; Secret of the Sixth Magic and Riddle of the Seven Realms - both were just as much fun as the first.

Billy Goat said...

I picked those up from the book store recently as well. I'm looking forward to checking them out. Thanks for the recommendation! :)