Fans of speculative fiction are often plagued by books with a good concept and poor delivery. Whenever I see The Innocent Mage in shops I try to tell my peers what it’s about and they tell me that it actually sounds very interesting. I will concede that the concept is intriguing, one can read apartheid allegories into the setting and the story deals with one character’s coming to accept his place in the world. The ingredients for a good fantasy book are there, but ingredients alone do not make a good meal.
The novel suffers from the writer’s infatuation with the rugged protagonist as he is consistently portrayed as a real man, not like all the other toffs. The majority of the novel is spent with this arrogant character and his ascension to better paid jobs. We are aware of a threat and potential antagonist but until Karen Miller remembers what she was supposed to be writing about we are lumbered with paper thin snobs who simply dislike our protagonist. That’s it. For over two thirds of the novel Karen Miller spins a tale of petty arguments and childish characterisation.
The most conflict that arises in the novel is the execution of a teenage boy and in fairness the emotional gravitas of this event is handled well, however the reason it is handled well is because the focus turns to the protagonist’s friend, the most interesting character in the story. We follow a chosen one, Asher, but the nature of this is not revealed to us until past the half-way point and even then it is handled with a lack of clarity that plagues any bad narrative invoking a prophecy. Up until that point the character with the most development is Asher’s friend and employer the Prince. We know his birth was troubled and a defect he suffers means his painful burden must be passed on to his younger sister. When this is touched upon it is intensely frustrating because of the knowledge that the narrative will drop this decent plot point to talk about the arrogant protagonist and how great he is.
The Innocent Mage could have been so much more. That’s what’s so annoying about it. Karen Miller devised a fascinating concept, great conflict and potentially good character development, but for some reason she decided to drop a bunch of boring awful characters into it, and they ruin everything.
Karen Miller, The Innocent Mage, ISBN: 0-7322-8079-6