Sunday, December 1, 2013

REVIEW: Magic Casement by Dave Duncan

Magic Casement (A Man of His Word, #1)Magic Casement by Dave Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio from Audible
Narrated By: Mil Nicholson
Original Publication Year: 1990
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: A Man of His Word #1
Awards: NA

I know people get tired of the same old archetypes trotted out in book after book but I have a confession; I kind of love archetypal stories. As long as they are done well - details of the book unique and characters with depth and complexity - there is really no story I prefer cozying up with. They are comforting and inspiring and there is, after all, a reason they pop up over and over in literature. One of my favorites is the underdog made powerful, the ordinary Joe or Jane discovering that there is something special within them and becoming the hero/heroine. Magic Casement by Dave Duncan is this type of story.

The world of Magic Casement is a feudal Empire vaguely reminiscent of renaissance (or perhaps earlier) Europe. The heart of the action takes place in a small but strategically key Kingdom in the far, frozen north called Krasnegar (apologies for any misspellings as this was an audio I’m not sure how certain names were spelled). This kingdom is ruled by a kindly, widowed king whose only heir, a somewhat obnoxious, free-spirited and tomboyish girl, is named Inosolan. One of her best friends is an orphaned stable boy named Rap and they both teeter on the edge between childhood and adulthood (around 14-15 years old). Almost as soon as Inosolan is sent south with her Aunt to the more metropolitan city of Kinvale to learn how to be a more proper princess and perhaps pick a husband, things start going wrong in Krasnegar. The King’s health is failing and with the urging of an enigmatic stranger, Rap decides he must face the journey across the harsh winter countryside to warn Inosolan of her Father’s illness. Thus the adventure begins.

A classic story but Magic Casement has a lot of elements that keep it fresh. The setting of the book, in a near arctic environment adds some unique peril and hardship. The different races and cultures are also fascinating. There are Goblins, Imps, Jotnars, Fauns, Elves, and Gnomes though none are exactly as we think of them. They seem human except for a few familiar sounding characteristics. For example, Goblins have a slightly greenish tint to their skin and Fauns have particularly hairy legs – it is as if they represent the myth-source for the creatures we’re familiar with. The Goblins which have a Native American type existence (superficially), living in the arctic wastes is particularly interesting. One of the Goblin characters, Little Chicken, makes the most unusual sidekick for the hero Rap.

The magic system is also very interesting and the details of it are unraveled throughout the story as Rap learns about his power. It revolves around the passing down of words of power which enhance a person’s natural abilities.The more words you know the more things you can do  - the more magical you become.

Rap is the traditional humble boy with a great destiny and happily he fills this role engagingly. In fact most of the characters are pretty great – I particularly liked Insolan’s Aunt Kade. Insolan herself was a little irritating but not too bad. 

This book features only the beginning of Rap and Inosolan’s journey and ends on a cliffhanger. It’s a good start, embracing all the elements that make this type of traditional story enjoyable while also including enough unique stuff to keep it interesting. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series and I am glad I came across this older book in a sale on Audible.

Final Note: The reader is an older English woman which put me off somewhat as much of the story follows Rap - a 14 year old boy. She didn’t match the youthfulness of much of the cast. However, I did get used to it and in a way, given the fable like feel of the story, her choice as narrator made sense.

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