Ahoy there me mateys! Novellas are floating me boat these days and this one was no exception. I have been meaning to read this author’s work for forever and was drawn into picking this up based on the armadillo on the cover. This story follows a 12 year old mage named Oliver who only knows three minor spells but is sent on a quest to save his village from a drought anyway. Oh and the armadillo is his familiar.
This was fantastic. It has the feel of an old school folktale in the beginning but quickly becomes more nuanced. It is this blend of light but fun plot and deeper truths that quickly drew me in. The writing style was fascinating. Plus the armadillo talks and is sarcastic. The humor throughout is an excellent addition.
Oliver himself is a perfect protagonist. He is a minor mage not only because he is young but also because his mentor was a 90 year old with a failing mind. Oliver didn’t get a chance to actually learn much practical magic. So when Oliver sets off he is ill prepared but determined. It is watching Oliver make mistakes and grow that caused me to fall in love with his character. He is honorable and wonderful and magical even if he doesn’t know many spells.
Apparently T. Kingfisher is a pseudonym for Ursula Vernon’s adult books. The author’s acknowledgement says that “I believed then and believe now that the Minor Mage is a children’s book. Various editors have attempted to disabuse me of this notion, but they were all adults and thus their opinion is suspect. (Of course, so is mine).” I very much believe that this be a children’s book. I suspect some grown-ups object to the unsavory things in the book. There are adults who make bad choices, monsters, bandits, suffering, death, and murderers. There is also friendship, compassion, perseverance, personal growth, and doing the right things in hard circumstances.
Seriously, I would have adored this a kid, perhaps even more than I adored it as an adult. I wish this would have existed when I was younger or that I could travel back in time and gift it to me younger self. Anyone who thinks this book is not appropriate for kids honestly hasn’t read enough traditional fairytales where bad things happened all the time or remember what is was like to read scary things as a kid. There was (and still is) something wonderful in the chills that would run up yer spine and the subsequent fierce internal debate about whether ye were too old to sleep with the light on even though those stories weren’t real or laying in the dark waiting for the goblins to get ye and wishing that ye lived in the story, bad creatures and all.
If this is what T. Kingfisher books are like then I need to read them all. Arrrr!
Side note: I hadn’t realized it until I was writing this post but this book is one of the 2020 Hugo award nominees (well the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book). I can see why this was nominated and this means I have now read four of the six. Arrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novella:
Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day.
He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.
He was a very minor mage.
Unfortunately, he was all they had.
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