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Book Review: The Awakened Mage by Karen Miller

Genre: Epic Fantasy
ISBN: 0316067814
ISBN-13: 9780316067812
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 712pp
Publisher: Orbit
Pub. Date: October 2007
Series: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Series, #2

One theme drives the plot of Karen Miller’s The Awakened Mage, sequel to The Innocent Mage and concluding volume of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, friendship. That friendship is exemplified in the sometimes tenuous, but always interesting friendship between Gar and Asher. In the first novel, the two formed an unlikely pair. Gar is a magickless prince, unable to serve as King of Lur, since the King is also the WeatherWorker and maintainer of Barl’s Wall, the only thing keeping the evil of Morg at bay. And there is Asher, the intelligent and wily fisherman, who only seeks to serve the kingdom and his friend.

The story of The Awakened Mage (also called Innocence Lost) picks up where its predecessor left off, not wasting text space on retelling the story, as it is assumed the reader already knows all the events that have led to this point. (I suggest you read no further in this review if you don’t want the plot spoiled from the first novel.) The King and all his family except Gar are dead, and the magician Durm is the puppet of Morg. Morg has planted the seed of power in Gar, timing it to disappear when it would be most disastrous for the kingdom. Now King, Gar must protect the kingdom from the racist and power hungry Conroyd Jarralt. But when Asher, the Innocent Mage of prophecy discovers his own magical powers, the whole Kingdom of Lur is thrown into chaos, just as Morg wants. The only solution will be for Asher to get help from Dathne and the Circle.

This time, Miller has worked hard to go from tragedy to even worse tragedy. Gone are the happy times of the first novel, and all that is left behind is darkness. Gar and Asher’s friendship goes through some horrendously trying times, even up to the point of breaking. Miller really dives into the friendship, giving it a great deal of stress, twisting it and tying it into knots to see just what will break Gar and Asher apart. And if there is one thing it is magic. Gar’s jealousy of others with magic and Asher’s newfound ability in it really push the characters over the edge and their friendship into turmoil.

Whereas The Innocent Mage had a more lighthearted tone, The Awakened Mage is much darker. Things go from bad to worse; to even worse, and when redemption finally dawns, the reader will be glad of it. But this does make for some great reading as we wonder just how Gar and Asher will find their way out of this mess and ultimately defeat the evil magician Morg.

Miller continues to write in an engaging style. Relying almost completely on characterization (there are no fight scenes in this one folks) to move the narrative forward, she makes the characters so arresting that we just have to find out what happens to them next. Several surprising plot twists occur in this novel. Miller jerked left when I would have jerked right, and I think that the novel is the better for it.

The ultimate solution to the problem of Morg is a bit trite, and I felt that Miller alluded to the tug and pull of prophecy versus free will, but never really dealt with the issue, leaving a small vacuum in the story. When the final battle comes, Miller betrays her inability to write fight scenes or even spell battles. She does, however, kill off characters we have come to know and love, and doesn’t let everyone get off free and clear, so that makes up for the lack of action. Since Miller did such a good job of making the reader invest in her characters, even the minor ones, the shock of their deaths gives the final scenes the punch they need to make for a really great ending, even if the fighting itself lacks luster.

This novel really does end the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology in the only way it could have ended and still be a heroic fantasy. Miller is great at building suspense, and when the dam breaks, and we reach the climax of the story, our hearts bleed for the characters.

I highly recommend that you read the entire Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. Both are mass market paperbacks, so the $6.99 price for each is small compared to the enjoyment you will get out of reading them. I actually regret that Orbit did not put The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage out in hardback format, so that I could give them a pride of place on my bookshelf next to my George R. R. Martin, Stephen Lawhead, Terry Pratchett, and Terry Brooks. Although Karen Miller’s novels are nothing like these authors, her arresting writing style, superb characterization, and creative plot twists make her one of the best writers working in the field of fantasy today, and so deserve a special place on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf.