tracked down A Minor Mage because the cover art was similar to that of T. Kingfisher's excellent A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, which was a book that I greatly enjoyed. A Minor
Mage has a similar fantasy world, but it contains no obvious connection to the other book. Like A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, A Minor Mage features a young protagonist with a very limited set of magical powers, and a plot that requires the youngster to utilize those limited
spells to the utmost. In A Minor Mage, the protagonist is Oliver, a twelve year old boy who is the official mage of the village of Loosestrife. The previous mage has aged so much that he has become mentally unstable and is unfortunately unable to
mentor Oliver in his magic craft. Thus, Oliver knows just three minor spells: one he calls the "push-me, pull-me", in which he can move small objects with his mind, a spell to tie his bootlaces together, and the third spell allows him to overcome his
allergy to armadillos, which his a handy spell indeed, since his familiar is an armadillo named Eglamarck.
The village of Loosestrife is suffering from a long drought. The desperate villagers decide that the only hope for salvation is to send their mage to the Rainblade mountains to convince the Cloud Herders to send rains to their
parched lands. No one knows exactly how this is accomplished, but decades ago a mage sent to the Rainblades successfully brought the rains. The fact that their mage is just a twelve year old unskilled boy does not sway the desperate villagers. Unfortunately,
Oliver's mother, who is an accomplished warrior, is not currently at home because she has traveled to another village to assist Oliver's sister with a childbirth. The mob of villagers, led by the angry red-faced miller, force Oliver to pack his backpack and
head out for the Rainblades. Notably, none of the angry adult villagers volunteer to accompany Oliver.
And so begins Oliver's adventure - a boy and his armadillo venturing out into the unknown toward the distant Rainblade mountains. Ultimately, Oliver must rely on his wits (and a good bit of luck). Oliver tries more powerful spells - he persists in
trying to make himself invisible, with nearly fatal results - but Eglamarck keeps advising him to stick to what he knows and put that to best use. Unlike the usual fantasy novel plotlines, Oliver does not suddenly discover that he is actually the most powerful sorcerer in the world,
prophesied to end all evil in the world. Oliver remains a minor mage, but he learns resourcefulness and determination and courage. Oliver is a very likable protagonist.
A couple of the plot points bothered me: what is the bandit gang doing so far out in the wilderness? They are not close to any town or road where there would be victims to rob. Hiding in a trackless wilderness, days from any potential targets,
doesn't make much sense. I was also bemused by the spider familiars - the spiders smile? Spiders have stern expressions? I could not imagine human expressions on spider faces, not even magical spiders. Nor does Kingfisher explain why the Cloud Gatherers had stop sending rain clouds
to the lands beyond the Rainblades - they caused the drought, but why?
Although A Minor Mage is a young adult novel, it is a bit darker than A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. That is because the personal peril that Oliver faces is scarier than what Mona faced. The flesh eating ghuls are nasty
creatures indeed! Nevertheless, I still found that the tone of the book was light hearted. I conclude this review with some excerpts that amused me. I hope Kingfisher writes more of these novels about young magic users.
"It'll take longer if we stand around talking," said the armadillo, plodding down the road on stumpy legs.
Oliver sighed. "Is there a shortcut?"
"Buy a horse."
They didn't have enough money for a horse. Oliver counted the coins in the purse, and figured that they could afford a maybe a hoof and a couple of hairs off the tail, if it wasn't a very good horse. There was also a distinct lack of people to buy horses from.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Oliver. His brain felt swollen, like a raw red sponge inside his skull. It didn't hurt, but it didn't hurt in the way that indicated a whole lot of hurt lurking underneath. "I think I broke something."
The armadillo eyed him for a moment. "Hmm. You don't look so good. The blood leaking from the corners of your eyes doesn't help."
He wrapped his arms around his head and wished for his mother, which only made him feel younger and more helpless. A real wizard wouldn't be huddled in a ditch wishing for his mother.
(In this, at least, Oliver was dead wrong - many wizards over the ages, some of them very major mages indeed, have found themselves curled in a ditches wishing desperately for their mothers. But they tend not to mention these things in their memoirs.)
A fleeting smile crossed the ghost's face. A ghost of a smile, thought Oliver, and then was immediately grateful that the armadillo hadn't heard the thought, because he'd probably get nipped in the shins.