T. Kingfisher’s 2019 Minor Mage is a stand-alone fantasy.
A drought is destroying a small town and its farmland. Perhaps it could be ended if someone were to trek the distant Rainblade mountains, there to petition the Cloud Herders for respite. But who will undertake this dangerous quest? Oliver’s neighbors are sure that he is the best chance the town has. Oliver is the town’s only mage.
Oliver really really doesn’t want to go, but he is only twelve. Who cares what some kid thinks?
Having no choice in the matter, Oliver sets out. He has with him rudimentary camping gear, some magic grimoires the contents of which he is far from having mastered, his talking armadillo familiar, a fair knowledge of herbology, and command of three spells, one of which controls his allergy to armadillo dander.
To get to the Raintrees, Oliver must first traverse the Harkhound Forest. Before he can brave those forbidding woods, he must travel across the abandoned farmlands between his town and the Forest. Why abandoned? Nobody knows. It may be that the cannibalistic ghuls Oliver barely escapes may have had something to do with it.
With ravenous ghuls snapping at his heels, a quite possibly cursed forest ahead of him, Oliver could use an ally. At which point he encounters Trebastion … who is, perhaps, not the best ally possible. He says he’s a musician, but he doesn’t seem to be all that good at it. He has one magical talent: he can craft talking harps out of the bones of murder victims.
This talent has angered a homicidal mayor, whose posse is even now is hunting Trebastion.
And there are bandits.
This is a Kingfisher so we can take “skillfully written and plotted” as read.
Oliver is not as useless as he thinks he is. Yes, his spells are limited to a push-pull spell, a lace-tying spell, and the allergy spell, but he’s a decent herbologist and he’s fairly good at research. Not bad for a twelve-year-old. The plot, other than episodic encounters with ghuls, posse, and bandits, consists of Oliver learning to value what he can do rather than beating himself up over what he cannot.
This story features not just one but two towns that that turn on young people. In Oliver’s case, it’s because the townsfolk are terrified of impending famine (presumably the water table in the region lies deep and the townsfolk don’t know about artesian wells). In Trebastion’s case, his townsfolk would rather scapegoat an innocent man rather than admit they’ve been led by a serial-killer mayor.
Humans, en masse, can fall prey to delusions and hysteria. Alas.
I would say that it’s delusional for Oliver’s townsfolk to think that forcing him on the quest will end well for them. He might fail, in which case the famine continues and they’ve lost their only mage. If he succeeds, he’ll returned as a seasoned mage with a good reason to take revenge on the town. Plus Oliver’s mom, a wandering adventurer, may also be a wee bit upset when she discovers what the town did to her son. More revenge.
I chose to read this book because it was mentioned in the context of this Tor piece, and because I wanted a quick, light read. The work is definitely quick, but what with the ghuls, bandits, a serial killer, and difficult moral quandaries, Minor Mage definitely isn’t light. It is definitely worth the reader’s time.