Earth may be the solution for two otherworldly forces battling for control in this richly plotted fantasy novel.
Wizards and sorcerers battle for control of the planet Rados in the well-written and richly imagined Magic Teacher’s Son, by David Harten Watson.
Sixteen-year-old Pran is a student in his father’s one-room magic school. Despite his seemingly set fate, Pran is uncertain about his future. He’s intrigued by black magic, but also feels drawn to the religion of the Truthseekers. Pran’s home is the kingdom of Eldor, where only white magic is practiced, and it is under constant attack by the kingdom of Marakna, where black magic prevails. Soon a Truthseeker arrives with a disturbing prophecy: the Maraknese have found a way to vanquish Eldor once and for all, and the kingdom’s survival rests with Pran.
World-building in the novel is intricate and complete. Magic is a constant force, and magicians are found in all walks of life, from medical healers to military command. But magic has its price—short spells require silver and long-lasting spells require gold, burning the precious metals to lead in the process. In a future foreseen by the Truthseekers, the Maraknese have stripped Eldor of power-giving gold, leaving the kingdom defenseless. To save his homeland, Pran and three companions must travel through a portal to the mythical planet of Earth and return with enough gold to counter Maraknese black magic.
Characters in the book’s large and varied cast are well drawn, with satisfyingly complicated personalities. In sneaking out to observe a black magic ceremony, Pran feels certain he’s evaded his father’s scrutiny—only to discover the old magician has known all along and waited for an opportunity to turn the knowledge to his advantage. Pran’s mother, though gentle and loving, is strongly opposed to the Truthseekers. Jelal, a frail young boy Pran protects from school bullies, turns out to have secrets and surprises of his own.
Weighing against these accomplishments is a problem with pace and plotting. The first hundred pages hum along swiftly, introducing the hierarchy of magicians and painting a portrait of a low-tech, pre-industrialized world. The Truthseekers’ prophecy and Pran’s mission are revealed in this early section, suggesting that his departure for Earth will soon follow. This does not happen, and the next 200 pages—more than half the book—are marked by excess dialogue and lack of action. The military joins forces with Pran and the Truthseekers, introducing a strong dose of bureaucracy; at one point, a meeting runs in excess of twenty pages.
Pran does succeed in finding the companions prophesied to accompany him to Earth, but the search is less than suspenseful. The narrative is further slowed by some red-herring delays: one of Pran’s companions is accused of being a spy but quickly absolved, a long-lost cousin is discovered, and farewell breakfasts and dinners occupy more than their share of pages. The action doesn’t pick up until the final chapters, when a last-minute Maraknese attack threatens to derail the mission. The book ends on an anticlimactic note, the mission to Earth not yet underway.
Magic Teacher’s Son will appeal to teens interested in well-drawn characters and fantasy with an emphasis on world-building.
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