For various reasons, it's a bit quiet here this month. Have a reprint SFX review: Karen Miller's The Reluctant Mage, the somewhat disappointing follow-up to The Prodigal Mage.
Dark Lords, like superheroes, never really die. Stab them, burn them, nick their favourite ring, give them a magical Alcatraz all to themselves: some day, you just know they’ll be back, crosser than ever. If you’re really unlucky, they’ll be back in your lifetime, just when you were ready to hang up your adventuring boots and settle into a comfortable retirement spent yelling at those damn kids to get off your palace lawn.
Still, at least Asher and Dathne, world-saving stars of Miller’s earlier duology, had the foresight to produce some super-powered offspring to take up the good fight on their behalf. After a first volume consisting largely of build-up and characters arguing, The Reluctant Mage sees their daughter Deenie step up to take over the family business. This happens mostly by process of elimination, since she’s the only one left who isn’t in dire peril or otherwise indisposed. But Deenie blossoms in the spotlight – indeed, the transition from the timid girl of the previous book is arguably a little too abrupt, although her resilience is well drawn – as she and her trusty best friend head out on the inevitable quest.
It’s a long way from being the fastest, most plot-driven fantasy writing out there, but there is much to appreciate here. Miller once again displays a knack for thoughtful character interaction, which is easier to enjoy this time with Deenie’s annoying brother offstage for most of the narrative. It’s just a shame that one of the most interesting, the Dark Lord’s unwilling minion Arlin, gets increasingly sidelined in favour of the over-long and over-familiar quest storyline. Given the way her skills tend, Miller could have produced a fascinating novel with Arlin as the protagonist.