Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller

A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller is a prequel to her Kingmaker, Kingbraker duology. I read the duology The Innocent Mage and Innocence Lost, many years ago, when they first came out (circa 2005, and golly was that cliffhanger between the two of them painful to wait through). A Blight of Mages tells the story of how the world in Kingmaker, Kingbreaker came to be how it was and why, in the future duology, the world needed saving.

I had only faint memories of Kingmaker Kingbreaker when I started reading (centring mostly on the presence of aforementioned cliffhanger) and it took me a little while to work out exactly how the characters related to the future world, but that had little effect on my enjoyment. This definitely isn't the kind of prequel that needs the original series to be enjoyed.

The story follows two powerful mages, Barl and Morgan. Barl is unranked (meaning not a member of the noble class) and as a result is not allowed to enter the illustrious College. She is frustrated working for her artisan boss who doesn't appreciate her powers and who is jealous of her better mageworking. Instead of encouraging her, he seeks to thwart her at every turn. The fact that Barl knows she's a better mage than most and isn't afraid to say so, doesn't really help her case.

Morgan is a ranked mage and the youngest to be admitted to the Council of Mages, which rules over all matters of magical law. He too finds it frustrating that other mages won't recognise his superior talents, particularly two of the other mages on the Council. Having access to more resources he strives to create better and more powerful incants in his spare time. In the course of events Morgan and Barl's paths cross and they find in each other kindred spirits.

A Blight of Mages was an enjoyable read. Barl's part of the story deals a lot with the injustice of class systems — ultimately ironic if you've read the future duology — and somewhat dramatic consequences of perpetuating the system. On the other hand, it was nice to see that there was gender equality in Miller's world, with women able to take on the same roles as men depending only on their magical abilities (I have absolutely zero recollection whether this was also true in the duology). Indeed Barl herself is one of the most powerful mages to ever come along and the fact that she is female is never an issue. Which is nice, given how many fantasy worlds are oppressive to women.

The only time I lost interest in the story was close to the end where there is a gap of several months summarised in a few pages and then the story jumps to a whole new character's point of view. It seemed to me like that time, and the new character, could have had an entire novel all of their own. On the other hand, that would have necessitated an extra storyline or two in addition to the main story already present in A Blight of Mages and I can understand the author not wanting to make the prequel into a duology of its own. And the new character was important to setting up some aspects of the duology. Happily, the story picked up back to the usual pace after that and ended with an appropriate bang.

All in all, A Blight of Mages is a solid fantasy read that stands alone well (although if read first, I can see it acting as a gateway drug to the duology). I recommend it to fantasy fans and fans of Karen Miller's other books, particularly those set in the same universe. (On the other hand, if Empress of Mijak is the only book of hers you've read/enjoyed, A Blight of Mages is entirely dissimilar.)

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, Harper Voyager
Series: prequel to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology
Format read: Paper! Gasp!
Source: Purchased from Booktopia for a scandalously low price
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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