Title: The Magician of Hoad
Author: Margaret Mahy
Heriot Tarbas is the odd one out in his farming family. Prone to fits, both of pain and of vision, he occupies a place on the periphery of his extended family, but he remains relatively happy thanks to the land itself. He enjoys being a farmer. Which is why he tries to run when one particular vision draws the attention of the king’s court. He doesn’t want to be a magician for the king, reading minds and performing magical entertainments. But the Magician has a role, just like the King and the Hero, in the land of Hoad . . . and he’s sure being at court isn’t it.
This one surprised me. I nearly didn’t read it because I hadn’t cared for Alchemy, but this one did a lot better building a fantasy, in addition to having strong characters. I liked the eye to detail both in the farm and drawing out the land. Hoad is both a place and more than a place: the King, the Hero, and the Magician all seem to have ties to some greater magic of the land. And I really liked the vastness and mystery of the magic. Where in Alchemy it was more of a free-for-all, this feels more fitted to the universe.
I particularly liked the exploration of sanity. Heriot and the third Prince are both considered mad by their families—and there are good reasons for it. With Heriot especially, being a Magician could be said to have left him in tune with a reality others can’t perceive, except he usually comes off as somewhat insane. On the other hand, we have other characters who are decidedly sane who have gone so far down their own paths that it turns into insanity. Where that line is drawn, and where each person is, isn’t always clear.
Only two things bugged me, one really minor and one major. The minor point: for about one paragraph, Heriot turns to drink. I had really hoped for more from him. On the other hand, this did take pretty much one paragraph to both come up and resolve, so it wasn’t like the story let him wallow in it. The more major problem is that Heriot’s pretty clear on how much he doesn’t care for the whole “court magician” role, but he never actually tries to run away. The story spans so many years it’s rather surprising he doesn’t make the attempt (in fact, the only time he does leave, it’s not exactly under his own power). He knows his power isn’t being used appropriately. He knows his self is fragmented and needs to be whole. But he doesn’t actually do much about either of those. That said, at least he comes around by the end, even though I was wanting him to do something much, much earlier in the narrative.
Overall, I enjoyed this, and will definitely have to read it again to pull some of the better quotes from it. I rate this book Recommended.