A Young Man Without Magic
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Cover Artist: Scott Fischer
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322791
Date: 10 November 2009 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Acclaimed and prolific author Lawrence Watt-Evans begins a new fantasy series with A Young Man Without Magic, a coming age fantasy or at least growth into political activism novel. He focuses on Anrel Marau, the son of sorcerers, but so frightened by his parents death he refuses to practice magic and deliberately fails his trial. Condemned as a commoner, his uncle, also a sorcerer, takes him into his household and pays for his education as a clerk.
The kingdom's present social order was established by a Grand Council more than five hundred years ago. Sorcerers form the nobility with responsibility for maintaining the land and making farming possible. Those without magic are treated as servants or worse. Of late, the land no longer produces rich harvests, and unrest among the commoners grows.
The Emperor has no magical talent and vies for control against the nobles. Debt-ridden and concerned about the growing unrest, he invokes a new Grand Council in hopes he can gain greater control of the kingdom.
Anrel's best friend, Valin, was born a commoner but possesses talent and passes his trial to become a sorcerer and noble. Anrel's uncle fosters and trains Lord Valin. A political firebrand, angry at what he perceives as the abuses of power, Valin challenges the status quo. He sees the Grand Council as a means to give the commoners power and to curb the nobles.
Anrel's troubles begin when his friend challenges the status quo and champions the need for change. Lord Allutal, a powerful sorcerer, condemns the baker's son is to death for stealing from his private herb garden. Valin protests, but to no avail. Frustrated, he inadvertently challenges the lord to a duel. Unable to marshal enough magic to stave off the attack by the sorcerer, he suffers a horrible death.
His death frightens Anrel, and he demands justice. The death also awakens his latent magic. Despite not sharing his friend's beliefs, he remains determined to ensure his friend's voice is heard. He travels to the capital of the province and makes an impassioned speech demanding change. A riot ensures, and Anrel flees for his life. Now considered a traitor no safe haven exists for him.
After a narrow escape, hungry and cold, he encounters a family of witches. They sense his power, but he has no ability to manage it. He learns simple spells from the witches. They live a precarious life. Witches are beloved and feared by the commoners and regarded as a nuisance by the nobles. They live on the fringes of society. However, if anyone lodges a complaint they can be executed because technically witchcraft is illegal.
Plans go ahead for the Grand Council, and Anrel's speech ensures the election of those opposed to the present order. Half the council consists of nobles and half of commoners. They agree on little.
When one of the witches attempts to place a love spell on Lord Allutal, he apprehends and condemns her to death. Anrel had accompanied her to a reception and must flee again. He vows to save the woman.
Watt-Evans, author of more than thirty fantasies, plans a sequel, Above His Proper Station, for November 2010.