Sometimes a book just doesn’t grab you, but you plod on anyway because you’ve heard good things about it, or maybe you have past experience with the author, or maybe deep down you just really want the book to work for you. Maybe even all of the above. Such was the case for me with Magic Casement. This book isn’t going to sweep you off your feet or throw you off a cliff or blast you into smithereens…you get the idea. It may, however, draw you in, albeit very slowly, such that you’re willing to give it and the subsequent trio of books in the series a good, thorough try.
The late Dave Duncan has always been one of my favorite fantasy authors, so I came into this somewhat biased. His Alchemist and King’s Swords books are superb, with an engaging variety of characters and vast worldbuilding. A Man of His Word very much satisfies these criteria as well, thought it wasn’t until the third book that I really felt I was hooked. That’s not exactly a formula for success for a new author, but while this was an early series for Duncan, he since has a long list of novels so longevity and success were his before his passing regardless of how this series might have done when it was released.
All that aside, I will say this about Magic Casement: it may start slow, but the payoff later on in the series is well worth it.
In this first book, Inosolan and Rap stand at opposite ends of society’s hierarchy. Inos is a princess and Rap, a simple stable boy with a mixed heritage that is tolerated yet always seems to raise an eyebrow. In the world of Pandemia, there are no humans, but rather imps, elves, gnomes, jotnar, djinni, and others. Their reach is vast too, with kingdoms far and wide. Yet our two main characters hail from a far simpler place called Krasnegar, by most accounts an insignificant, backwater kingdom that is, irregardless, important enough that gods and wizards interfere in the fates of our main characters at the moment when the kingdom’s ruler, Inos’s father, dies. Forced to flee, the two are separated and each find themselves hundreds (or thousands) of miles from home. Much traveling ensues as Inos, who has lost her kingdom, must navigate a political landscape bereft of her father’s wisdom and Rap, who makes a promise to see Inos returned to her throne, must fight for his life almost every step of the way as he hopes to reunite with his sworn liege. The relationship between these characters is more than princess and subject, of course, though neither of them realizes it until they’ve been forced to face many new realities and challenges apart from one another.
Of the two characters, I found Rap much more engaging. Inos often comes across as spoiled, which I suppose was the author’s intent, and seems to want things handed to her. When they are not, she often becomes flummoxed, not sure what to do about it other than pout. Rap, on the other hand, has had nothing handed to him, so he is already armed with many life lessons. For Rap, it is more about learning and accepting that he can be so much more than “only” a stable boy. In many ways, the act of transporting each of these characters to faraway lands, while not appreciated at the time, is ultimately what allows them to grow far beyond anything they might have become had they remained in tiny Krasnegar.
The magic system is unique, or was back in 1990 when this book was first published. Power rests in special words. The more words one knows, the more power one has. Words are therefore extremely valuable and often at the center of much intrigue.
I’m giving the first book in the A Man of His Word series three rockets. It’s a slow start that didn’t immediately grab me and I even found my focus waning throughout. But I’m currently reading the third book, so I know it’s a gateway to something bigger and better and it does lay the foundation for the characters and the story in a mostly satisfactory way.