Wednesday, 21 March 2001
Lyndon Hardy: Master of the Five Magics (1980)
Review number: 789
One of the aspects of the fantasy genre I find interesting is the variety of mechanisms by which magic works. These are rarely as systematic as they are in this novel; Hardy pictures a world with five very distinct magical crafts, with their own uses and methods. Practitioners of one know little about the others, and jealously guard their own secrets in turn.
The main character is journeyman thaumaturge (the branch of magic roughly corresponding to engineering) Alodar; though born of a noble family, he has been forced by circumstances to take up a profession. With the queen and much of the army of Procolon, he is confined in the fortress of Iron Fist by a massive rebellion. As the fortress falls, he discovers a hidden treasure - of the art of alchemy - and a way of escape for the queen and her companions. He also discovers an ambition: to prove himself worthy to be declared a suitor for the hand of queen Vendora and thereby to restore his family's fortunes.
Though the novel is not comic, its tone is reminiscent of Sprague de Camp's Unbeheaded King series. It reads well, particularly given that the author is concerned far more to explain his system of magic than he is interested in plot or character. It is interestingly scientific, but with holes (each craft has a small number of guiding principles, but their origins are obscure and their application somewhat arbitrary; research is not about finding new principles but about developing new applications). Towards the end of the novel, there is an attack on scientific research, which throws some light on the background to the novel. Though awkward in places, Master of the Five Magics is generally very readable when compared to other fantasy novels about a single idea.