Time for another reprint SFX review; I wrote this one for issue 187, of Karen Miller's The Prodigal Mage (book one of the Fisherman's Children series). On balance, I found it quite an annoying read, but in a way that hasn't put me off trying something else by Miller in the future; when it's good, it's really very good. Its main problem, as so often with high fantasy, is excess.
Miller's latest - first in a follow-up series to her debut duology - is packed with fathers (and occasionally mothers) making a mess of parenting. With breathtaking obstinacy, short-sightedness, and (almost) always the best intentions, her adult characters manage to find exactly the wrong thing to say or do in any given situation. Bold, brash son getting overly curious about dangerous magic? Refuse to let him learn to use it safely, hide the spellbooks, and if all else fails don't bother to explain your reasons, just shout - louder and louder as he gets older. What could possibly go wrong?
Naturally, the magic of said son, Rafel by name, may be the key to saving the kingdom of Lur from the evil power that is steadily draining life from the land. But Lur is as divided and fractious as Rafel's family; social tensions between the Olken people and their former overlords the Doranen hamper every effort to take action.
Miller is clearly a very talented writer: her characterisation is a masterclass in nuance and sensitivity, and she has a visceral way with action. But the race against time to save Lur is off-puttingly slow, consisting largely of people discussing what is to be done - and why they absolutely will not let their loved ones do it - in ever shriller tones. These dialogues are well-crafted, but get wearyingly repetitive. It's frustrating, because when the plot gets going (from page 200, in fits and starts), it's so good: a compelling portrait of a blighted world in the company of flawed,