It’s been a while since I read this book, and I didn’t review it at the time because after I finished this I went straight into the sequel – and after reading the sequel I was ranting like a lunatic because with the two books combined I hated the way the story ended. However, now that I’m calm (and feeling better lately) I wanted to give a review of Innocent Mage based on the merit of the first book as it stands on its own.
There is a pretty well-set-up world created for the purposes of the story, but the main points that help one follow along is that there are two races, essentially, occupying the kingdom: Olkens and Doranen. Olkens are native to the land, but traded quite a few freedoms for the protection of the Doranen, who came across the mountains in a time of war and possess some fairly flashy magic. That magic holds a wall around the kingdom to keep nasty things out, and the royal family possesses a special brand of magic that controls as tempers the weather. Near the coast the magic is not as prominently featured in everyday life, but the cycles of harvests and seasons rests solely on the shoulders of the monarch of the kingdom. Quite a mantle of responsibility.
Our hero (sort of) is Asher, an Olken and the youngest of a veritable tribe of brothers who were born into the life of coastal fishermen. As the youngest, Asher held a special place in the lives of his parents. However, it made his older brothers turn against him and while Asher seems to accept their bullying and belittling as a part of of life it made me, as a reader, really happy to see him decide to leave home. Asher is driven by his love of his father to seek his fortune in Dorana City, the nation’s capital, so that with a steady job he can send money back home so that his father is well cared-for and no longer needed on the family’s fishing voyages where the harsh weather and grueling conditions can ruin a man’s health.
It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that his motivation is completely selfless – who wouldn’t want a better life after enduring the hardships of grueling work and an unstable home? – but largely Asher is a character that readers can sympathize with and cheer on. So, the book begins with Asher’s journey. He has an amusingly belligerent attitude toward city-dwelling Olken and steadfastly refuses to let himself follow the masses in the subservient, sometimes toadying attitude, displayed toward the Doranen. Since the Doranen are essentially the ruling class it is a trait that leave Asher would probably do best without. However, Asher has the good fortune to make an impression on the Doranen Prince Gar and achieves his first real goal: a steady, well paying job. Asher is put to work in the stables for the prince and the royal family. And, fortunately, he finds a friend in the stable meister, Matt.
Where things get interesting is that Asher also finds himself becoming a good friend of the Prince. And friends of royalty tend to get involved in the sticky world that is politics, whether they intend to or not. Asher quickly finds himself in the stickiest position possible: he is appointed as Olken Administrator by the Prince and suddenly wields a great deal of power and influence. Let the drama begin.
While Asher is, thankfully, accepted and well-liked by the king and queen, he is at odds with Gar’s mercurial sister and heir to the throne, Princess Fane. His sudden promotion and rise in status is not well accepted by Gar’s closest staff, and the king’s closest adviser harbors an active dislike of everything Olken. Sticky, indeed. Especially since Gar’s primary loyalty is to the Prince and to just doing his job right, despite what challenges may be thrown in his path.
Added to that, Gar has his own trouble and toils as a rare sort of Doranen: one with no magic.
Gar and Asher have a larger enemy, though. Unbeknownst to our players, the malevolent Doranen mage who spurred the war that sent Doranen fleeing over the mountains to the Olken’s land is still alive and kicking. By means of magic this mage, Morg, has kept himself “alive” and lies in wait for the first break in the magical wall that protects the kingdom so that he can complete his conquest. When that break appears, Morg infiltrates not just the country, but takes over a member of the royal house and begins slowly to unravel all that has protected Olkens and Doranens from him for generations.
Asher and Gar will find themselves in a position to stop this unraveling of the society built by Olkens and the first Doranen refugees, but they will also lose much before the threat makes itself known to them. Morg works in subversive ways, and by the time everyone notices something is amiss it is already too late to stop all of the wheels that Morg has set in motion…
Which is to say…this book ends with quite a cliffhanger. All in all, this was a good read. There are characters I enjoyed, one character that I particularly hate and wish horrible things on, and because of the cliffhanger ending I instantly wanted the sequel. Would I recommend it? Yes. The sequel? Yes, but with the caution that the ending is a little anticlimactic. However, it is my understanding that together these two books function as a prequel so it might be worth it to read them both and then dive into the continued story later. (That series, I have not read.) Karen Miller has a solid style going on with her writing, and a gift for storytelling…I’m just not sure that at the end of the sequel I like the story so much. I do, however, like Innocent Mage as it stands all by its lonesome. So, if you’re looking for a new read, I would give it a try.