Minor Mage, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions 978-1-614-50500-6, $12.95, 174pp, tp) July 2019.
Despite the missing mother and the adolescent mage in potentially fatal situations, Minor Mage is a book for kids – and for adults who enjoy the rich, whimsy-adjacent stories by Ursula Vernon, the writer behind the T. Kingfisher pen name.
Oliver is a nearly teenage mage who is the only source of magic his village has. While he’s adept at smaller acts like curing poison ivy, he only knows three real spells. The most useful of the three, he thinks, is the one that controls his allergy to armadillo dander, which is important when your familiar is an armadillo.
A drought is killing all of the crops in his village and the villagers gang up to demand that Oliver go on a quest to bring back the rain. It’s what their old mage used to do. Oliver realizes no one else will save them and sets off on a hero’s journey. There are, as you’d expect, adventures.
Those adventures, however, never go as Oliver or the reader anticipates. Just when you feel that the story is going to zig, it not only zags, but it also zooms. Vernon’s work always feels like it has tapped into some elemental power source that gives it a lightness, despite the mortal peril she puts her characters in. Once you spend time in her worlds, their complex ideas about humanity and unreasonable love for same bleeds through.
Toward the end of Oliver’s quest, he encounters the Herder. ‘‘There is enough darkness in the world,’’ said the Herder. ‘‘We do not add to it unless we must.’’ That, perhaps, is also what makes Vernon’s stories so wonderful. There is conflict. There is death. There is evil – but those are overmatched by the hard-won lightness. It’s a great underlying message for kids – and for adults who need the reminder.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the December 2019 issue of Locus.
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