Friday, 20 April 2001
Lyndon Hardy: Secret of the Sixth Magic (1984)
Review number: 801
Having written his first novel around a carefully constructed theory of magic, Hardy undermines it in his second. It is set in a different country in the same world, with a new central character who is unfortunately very similar to the hero of Master of the Five Magics. (Having someone who studies all the different magic arts is of course a useful device for exposition of the theory.)
The plot of Secret of the Sixth Magic is based around a crisis, when the art of sorcery ceases to work. This spreads to magic - a serious problem when this art is used to guarantee major currencies. Finally, Jemidon works out what is happening - magic is not being destroyed; its laws are being changed by the mysterious Melizar. When Melizar's minions become the only people to know the new laws, they will have immense power, so Jemidon has to work out how to transform the laws back again.
The whole thing seems to be simultaneously contrived and unimaginative. It also undermines an interesting facet of Master of the Five Magics, the correspondence between the branches of the magic arts and our scientific disciplines; to change the laws of physics would have much more far reaching and interesting effects (probably fatal) than just putting physicists out of work. Repeating the same plot with essentially the same poorly drawn characters is dull, and the one really remarkable aspect of this novel is just how uninteresting Hardy can make a completely alien world (in which Melizar imprisons Jemidon) and how unalien its supposedly completely different inhabitants seem to be. There is a further sequel, but this novel has always quashed any desire I might have had to read it.