Even if I am hopelessly biased, because I know and like Sarah Prineas very much as a person, I also like her books very, very much. I just finished Sarah’s second novel, which is aimed at the middle school range but is totally entrancing for a grown up. It’s called The Magic Thief: Lost, and it’s the second book in her Magic Thief series about a pickpocket/wizard named Connwaer, or Conn for short. The first book is about Conn’s revelation that he has magical abilities, and he becomes the apprentice to a grumpy wizard named Nevery Flinglas. In Lost, Conn leaves his home city of Wellmet to travel to the desert city of Desh, in search of the cause of the Shadows that are invading Wellmet and turning people into stone. This is decidedly an adventure book, and a great one.
I liked the second book more than the first, in part because it takes a very different turn — Conn is still searching for information about the magic, which is a sentient being (although he’s one of the few to hold this threatening belief), but this time new characters take prominence, like his friend Lady Rowan Forestal’s swordfighting partner/possible love interest Argent. And Rowan’s guard captain, Kerrn, is a fierce, skeptical presence who alternately trusts and distrusts Conn’s intentions. It’s nice to see Conn out of his element in Wellmet, but he has good instincts and a charming way of describing his world, so he’s a good narrator to be with. I especially like the way Sarah voices him: he “snick-picks” locks, Nevery “swept-stepped” out the door, etc. She adverbs her verbs in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before, and it makes Conn feel fresh and avoids the dreaded adverb weight.
Even though Sarah probably hates comparisons to Harry Potter books, I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s on my mind. I know she hasn’t read the HP series, so everything she writes is free from those associations — yet some of the similarities are striking, so it makes me wonder if they are just common conventions of fantasy writing. For instance, in HP, wizards have to use wands to fully channel their magic, and the wands “choose” their appropriate wizards. Wands must be “won” in a duel in order to give full allegiance to their masters. In Sarah’s magical world, a wizard has to use a stone called a “locus magicalicus” (plural is loci magicalici? Sarah?) that “belongs” to the wizard. Without the locus stone, the wizard can’t perform magic, which is something that stymies Conn throughout Lost.
There’s also the master-apprentice relationship. Conn is apprenticed to Nevery, much as Harry becomes the de facto apprentice to Albus Dumbledore, and both worlds have schools to train wizards. In each case, the master is an older, wiser man with a beard, although Nevery is far more gruff than Dumbledore and less secretive. Both masters trust their apprentices to carry out duties for them in their (the masters’) absence, and both give their apprentices tools (in Harry’s case, his Invisibility Cloak; in Conn’s case, lockpicks). Maybe these are just superficial similarities, but I can’t help noticing.
Something that distinguishes Sarah’s world of magic from that of Harry Potter, though, is the nature of the magic. While the origin and character of magic in the HP series is never fully explored (there’s just Dark Magic and the rest of magic, which is essentially good), the magic in Sarah’s book is a living thing, ebbing and flowing based on certain properties. It speaks to Conn, as well as to others, and it needs protection. I wondered if it was at some level like a spiritual force — ever surrounding but mysterious, protective yet vulnerable.
It’s exciting to have a series like The Magic Thief to explore because the characters are so alive. The physical books themselves are beautiful; they have those raggedy edges that are apparently called “deckled edges” and the journal notes of Rowan, Nevery, and Conn have homemade papery qualities to them. The details of the book are so nice, and the cover is embossed and shiny. Quality! Love it!
So that’s my treatise on magic and The Magic Thief, available in bookstores near you! 🙂