Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review of The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy

Mahy, Margaret. The Magician of Hoad. McElderry Books, 2009.

12-year-old Heriot Tarbas does not want to leave his large, extended family and the farm to serve the king as a magician, so he runs away. But after a few short and dangerous adventures, his fate catches up to him - and for a decade, he remains by the king's side, using his magical talents to ascertain motives and thoughts of possible friends and enemies and to conjure court entertainments.

As in any court, there are intrigues, and in this court it is the king's oldest son who wants to disrupt his father's fragile peace, while the middle son wants to vanquish the king's Hero to become Hero himself. The youngest son, Dysart, who is Heriot's friend, simply wants to marry his childhood sweetheart Linnet. When the oldest prince's plot springs to life, Heriot and others become pawns - until young Cayley, a mysterious and talented street urchin turned warrior, who rescues them all.

Like many of Mahy's books, there is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating mixture of straightforward narration and dreamy musing in this tale. There is much that is left unsaid and many questions unanswered. The main question for me is: what is the source and nature of Heriot's magic? He doesn't ever seem to need to "learn" it and it seems to have no limits except those imposed by his own old mental/emotional traumas. Surely, with powers like his, he would be one of the most reviled and feared people in the land - and yet, he is treated like an amiable and quite useful tool.

Much is touched on - the customs and history of the land, for example - but not explored in any way, almost as if the reader were a native of the land and was expected to know all this stuff. Although I'm usually eager to know small details of how everything works, I managed to put my curiosity aside and enjoy the story.

The strange personalities of the princely brothers are presented as opaque mysteries, and so we don't get to know them. Even Dysart, who starts off being a strong and fascinating character, gets left by the wayside as he grows older. Instead, we get to know Heriot, who remains just an ordinary guy even as he realizes just how very powerful and dangerous he is. His young friend Cayley, although more mysterious than anyone, is the person we know most about in the end, and the person we care most about. Cayley's story is the pivot around which the whole book turns, but we don't realize it until almost the very end.

I do wish the jacket art didn't make Heriot look like Harry Potter. Yes, Heriot wears glasses (which feels like an anachronism but does make him lovably flawed) - but do they have to be pictured as round? And where are his trademark long and numerous braids? Heriot is described as being copper-colored, and I suppose his skin does glow - but he just looks like Harry Potter with a tan. The upper frame of autumn leaves is a nice touch, though. And check out the New Zealand jacket art to the right. The braids are nicely done, but everything else? Yech!

Although this fantasy was not quite satisfying due to my yearning to know more (why didn't Heriot visit his family more often or have them come to court? how could he be happy so long in his somewhat dorky job?), it's still a rousing read that I would recommend to most fantasy fans, particularly those who enjoy Tamora Pierce. For ages 13 and up.

1 comment:

  1. This is on my list--I guess you liked it enough that I should keep it there, but not necessarily rush out into the wet and cold world and buy a copy right now! :)