Tale of boy magician in a fantasy kingdom fails to excite

John Millen
John Millen |

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by Margaret Mahy

Published by Faber and Faber

ISBN 978 0 571 23210 9

Veteran New Zealand children's author Margaret Mahy enters a crowded arena with her novel The Magician of Hoad. Here we are again in a fantasy land where the inhabitants have strange names like Talgesi and Prince Betony, and where a young man with magical powers is suddenly thrust into the limelight to save the day. It's all been done before, so Mahy needs to convince readers she has a different story to tell.

Set in the kingdom of Hoad, all is as you might expect. There is a king who lives in the city of Diamond, a hero called Carlyon who attends the king, a princess who might or might not marry one of the king's sons and a court magician whose powers help to keep the king safe. No surprises here, then.

Twelve-year-old Heriot Tarbas is a simple farm boy who lives in a quiet village with his peasant family. The king and his court might as well be light years away because they play no part in Heriot's life. But that's all about to change.

From the moment he was born, Heriot has had visions involving events that have nothing to do with him. All the villagers know that Heriot has strange abilities, some people say that he can read minds, and his family thinks he just suffers from fits, but he never harms anyone, so no one worries when he has one of his weird turns.

But news of the strange boy in the remote village has reached the court, and the king decides he wants Heriot to travel to Diamond to train as a fully-fledged magician. Heriot runs away but is captured by the king's men and taken to the big city to begin training.

With his powers, Heriot is given a dual role at court. He has to create magical fantasies to entertain the king's guests and, more importantly, he has to read the minds of everyone who comes to court to assess their truthfulness.

Heriot's only two friends at court are the king's young son, mad Prince Dysart, and a mysterious wild city boy with secrets of his own. As these three misfits grow older, their friendship changes. What was once an innocent childhood friendship takes on a more serious form as each character discovers more about the part they must play in Hoad's future.

For the most part, The Magician of Hoad is a reasonable, well-written read. But it lacks the spark needed to be great. The story plods along, throwing up very little to excite the reader. Even when a character reveals a secret meant to surprise, astute readers will have seen it coming. The story doesn't grab the attention often enough, and ultimately leaves little impact. There's just much more exciting stuff out there.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]