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Book Review: The Prodigal Mage by Karen Miller

# Genre: Epic/High/Court Fantasy
# Hardcover: 512 pages
# Publisher: Orbit
# Publication Date: August 10, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0316029203
# ISBN-13: 978-0316029209
# Author Website: Karen Miller
# Livejournal: Karen’s Musings

If there is any currently publishing epic fantasy author that everyone must read, that author is Karen Miller. Her character driven fantasies are agile and deftly written. And to her advantage, she now has two epic fantasy series completely published by Orbit, The Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, and theGodspeaker trilogy a well as several media tie in novels and the Rogue Agent series published as K. E. Mills. This allows readers to have complete stories by which to judge her work, not having to wait for several years between books.

Her latest novel published in both the US and UK is The Prodigal Mage the beginning of a new series about the children of the heroes of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. Asher, also known as the Innocent Mage, has triumphed over the evil powers that sought to destroy the pocket Kingdom of Lur. The land has had relative peace for ten years, though racial tension continues to exist between the blond-haired, conquering Doranen and the original black-haired inhabitants, the Olken. But Asher, gifted with the magics of both peoples and the only one of his kind, has kept the peace. But trouble is stirring in Lur, and Olken earth-magic feels a wrongness in the land. It will be up to Asher and his magical family, wife Dathne, son Rafel, and daughter Deenie to save Lur from the destructive forces that seek to breach the barrier of reefs and mountains that had protected their kingdom for so long.

Miller’s stories are wholly character-driven. Though the plotting and pacing is very well done, it is the characters that make you hunger for more. Miller’s characters are some of the very few that can really be called three-dimensional, with all the highs and lows of a real person, written in such a way that the character is built into someone the reader can almost touch without you even noticing.

Although the characters have their primary motivations, and that provides a great deal of the thrust in the tale, they are not only one set of emotions or another. Although Rafel is angry that his father won’t let him practice magic, he is also understanding of his parent’s wishes, eventually. Though Asher can be arrogant and brusque, he has as sensitive side for his family and friends. These characters that have motivations both mundane and lofty just suck you right in, leaving making you believe that they are real. Miller’s skill at characterization is not found in most fantasies. This is the type of writing one finds in so-called “mainstream” fiction, what makes it onto the New York Times Bestseller lists and wins literary achievement awards.

Another thing Mille does so very well is her use of a colloquial English to represent the Olken and more cultured language for the Doranen. Whichever character the readers inhabits at a particular moment, that character both speaks and thinks in the style of an Olken or Doranen. Asher continues to speak frankly in an accent that would usually be attached to a lower class person. Not only does he speak that way, but he also thinks that way, so that even the exposition in between dialogue has the same flavor as the speech. Miller’s consistency in making the speech carry over in both thought and word must have been difficult to write, but it is one of the best things about the novel.

However, I can acknowledge that some readers may dislike it, even find it annoying, especially when colloquial terms are used (Miller resides in Australia) they may be unfamiliar to US or even UK readers. But that just adds to the fantastic nature of the narrative, giving it a sense otherness, while at the same time keeping it rooted firmly in the mundane and the everyday though its coarseness and lack of sophistication.

The tale itself is great too. A powerful family of mages is rent by the same problems that ordinary people encounter in every family; while at the same time must be the saviors of Lur and both its peoples. Miller highlight the difficulties that families in positions of power, who have a conscience, must find themselves in as they want to be a family, yet have other responsibilities and duties that keep them from being very ordinary.

The setting is expanding as well. Whereas in the duology the action was limited to the small kingdom of Lur, the map begins to expand beyond in this first novel, with expectations that there may be more to come in sequels to the The Prodigal Mage. And even the kingdom of Lur is not immutable, as the very land is changed by the ravages wrought by the wrongness of the earth.

The Prodigal Mage highlights why Karen Miller is the best epic fantasist writing today. Her stories are intriguing, her characters thorough and well-rounded, and her setting vivid. Reading The Prodigal Mage made me happier and more content than I have been in a very long time. I couldn’t help but come away happy and excited, and thoroughly relaxed after reading The Prodigal Mage. Read Karen Miller works. Read them, and find joy.