Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review
I am a big fan of Michael Manning’s writing. I have devoured the Mageborn series, the Embers of Illeniel series and several others along the way. He always manages to blend a well crafted plot with excellent world building and character development. He’s not quite at Sanderson’s level for inventiveness but the worlds he builds feel real. That is a gift.
I have been all in with the Art of the Adept series from the beginning. I love the way he introduced then explored the magic system. The main character Will has to rely on his own intellect, scrappiness and grit to get ahead in a world of sorcery and wizardry. Yes, there is a serious distinction between the two that defines the class system as well as what makes Will so special as a wizard.
The plot line and characters of the first three books are excellent. We have Will falling for a woman that is so out of reach it hits fantastic levels, which is why we’re reading it. Reaching for the unattainable is why you come to love the main character. If he has a superpower outside of wizardry it is self-confidence, he will figure out how to make the impossible work. He is surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters. There’s the enormous warrior, aptly named Tiny, a gentle giant with the heart of gold. The bookish Janice who’s the only one in the Academy with the drive and intelligence to go deeper than Will to find obscure references that gives him an edge and moves the plot forward.
Then, of course, you have the wise sage that starts him off on the path of wizardry in the first place. His grandfather plays his role in the hero’s journey perfectly, teaching him wizardry and disappearing when he has learned just enough, with a cool catch that allows Will to tap into remaining pieces of Grampa’s knowledge when he’s desperate. Then, there’s the goddamn cat, quite possibly one of the coolest characters in any series.
The plot moves you along brilliantly, as it should in the ’10s and ’20s of this century. He doesn’t make you suffer through Dickensian descriptions like much of the older gems of this genre. Instead, he competes directly with television for your attention. You move from interaction to interaction fast enough to make every page interesting without falling into a Michael Bay action orgy. The approach allows for character building and a crescendo at the end.
However. I started getting the sense that Manning himself is getting bored with the series starting with the fourth book. By the fifth book, the enemies are becoming too cliché for my tastes.
If you are thinking about reading this now, stop here. Was there a good reason to turn the bad guy into a dragon? That seemed lazy, especially when most of the previous villains were so well thought out. Maybe that’s the only way he could justify the cold-heartedness of the primary villain, Selene’s dad. Sure, make him a giant lizard.
I didn’t believe it. Manning’s reveals are usually more creative. The other thing I couldn’t believe in this one was how dark Selene got. She’s always had the capacity to go Sith lord but her transformation in this novel didn’t seem in line with the character who vowed never to become her father. There may yet be a twist here but I had a hard time stomaching that transformation. The final thing I couldn’t believe was how rapidly and viscously Tiny turned on Will. Even for all the crappy things Will has done, this didn’t seem warranted.
The thing I loved the most about Manning’s books is there is always a cool training sequence, the montage scene made popular by damn near every ’80s movie. This was also missing in this novel. He hinted at it with Will’s younger cousin but it would have been rehashing old ground to go through the same paces, so he rightfully skipped it. As a reader, it leaves you wanting. The thing I loved most about this book was the introduction of Evie, the slightly different flavor of goddamn cat that we had in the first books.
Overall, I highly recommend the first three books in this series but found myself wanting on this latest. I’ll keep you posted if Manning is able to close this series out in six with something that can’t be missed.