Saturday, November 23, 2013

Het einde van de Magier - Raymond E. Feist

Otherwise known as Magician's End. When I was in my late teens I went through a spell when I hardly read any books at all. Literature classes at the time seemed to be aimed to force the most boring reading material on you, or otherwise books that are way over the head of your average teenagers, making reading seriously unappealing. I've always wondered how many people never got back to reading again after going through those classes. I returned to reading in 1996 when I entered college, mostly to take my mind off the more technical stuff I had to read as part of my education. Feist's novels had first started appearing in Dutch translation back then and he is in part responsible for my reading habits these days.

Feist was quickly followed by other big names in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I didn't take me that long to figure out he isn't a very good writer in most respects. What he used to be very good at was hold the reader's attention though. Even if his stories are straight, fairly stereotypical D&D material, there is something in there that keeps you reading. In the late 1999s my access to English language books was limited so I ended up with a whole stack of Feist's novels in translation. He is one of the few authors I never read in English. In hindsight, maybe I should have. the translation contains some annoying inconsistencies, especially in the names of characters. Then again, I suspect Feist's prose isn't the kind that looses anything in translation.

Magician's End is the final part in Feist's riftwar cycle, a series of books that started with the publication of Magician in 1982. As of 2013 there are 29 novels in the series, one novella and several shorter pieces. Apart from the novella, Jimmy and the Crawler, in with Feist tries to salvage the last two projected volumes in the Krondor sub series, I've read them all. Personally I think that Feist hasn't really produced anything decent since the third volume of the Sertpentwar Saga: Rage of a Demon King. Most of the work he produced after 1998 has been sloppy, riddled with continuity errors and frequently feels rushed. I seriously considered dropping the series at one point but by then, he had almost reached the end of the cycle. And it must be said, while his most recent books aren't his best, they have been a step up from the real low he hit in the early 2000s.

Magician's End is the final volume in the cycle. Meant to tie up all loose ends in the series. Pug and his companions are are faced with the ultimate threat to their world, while on the mortal plane, Feist rehashes the plot of Magician and presents us with another difficult succession in the Kingdom of the Isles. Feist among other things resolves the prophecy where Pug has to see everyone he cares for die before his work is done and reveals another layer in the cosmology of Midkemia.

Over the course of the series the cosmology of the Midkemian universe has been revised and added to several times. Marcos in particular has revised his truth so often that nothing he says can be take without a grain of salt anymore. In this novel, Feist expands his analogy between quantum mechanics and magic. It is something that has come up a number of times before, Nakor's view on magic is particularly compatible with quantum mechanics, but I don't Feist has gone into it in so much detail before. It is almost like he is agreeing with Arthur C. Clarke on technology and magic. Of course I don't think I know anyone able to manipulate matter at the quantum level with their mind. When you think about it, the Midkemian universe has an interesting structure to it. Unfortunately the way it is presented in the novels is mostly to serve the story. When Feist needs the rules changed or an even more dangerous enemy introduced, he adds another layer.

While the magical side of the story was decent, I really can't say the same for the events in the Kingdom of the Isles. As usual, the sword part of Feist's sword and sorcery is some kind of boyish wishfulfilment. He rarely includes female characters that are more than the love interest of whatever boy happens to be the main character (a notable exception being Mara, the main character in the Empire trilogy co-authored by Janny Wurts, these are some of the best books in the cycle). The victor of the war of succession is never in much doubt and he observant reader will probably have guessed to outcome in the previous book already. The whole plot line and characters involved are predictable and cliché to say the least. There doesn't seem to be much of a connection between the events in the Kingdom and the magical struggle that Pug and his companions are facing either. The outcome of the war is essentially irrelevant to whether or not the universe Midkemia is part of can be saved.

Feist's work displays a lot of problematic elements that were common in the sprawling fantasies of the 1980s and 1990s. These works have a certain appeal but in recent years I have drifted away from it a little. The overused pseudo medieval settings, feudal societies, the messiah-like prophecized one, the stereotypical elves, dwarves and dragons, the traditional roles of men and women, the problematic borrowing of non-western cultural practices to represent foreign kingdoms and empires, Feist is guilty of pretty much all of it. Considering how deep a hole he dug himself over the course of the series, I think he manages reasonably well with this final volume. It is not a masterwork of epic fantasy by a long shot but compared to much of his recent output he ends the cycle on a positive note. I guess I have read the final volumes in the series mostly because of an odd sense of nostalgia but in a way I'm glad I did finish the series. It's not a series I would recommend to anyone new to the genre these days, it is likely to confirm any preconceptions about Fantasy they might have, but Feist did get me reading again and I'm probably not the only one who started to explore the genre through his books. I suspect a lot of other Fantasy authors owe Feist for the very accessible books we wrote in the 1980s. I would not be surprised if he is responsible for dragging many more readers into the genre. The genre has moved far beyond the type of work Feist has produced and as a reader I think I have developed a taste for more challenging work. Feist was the entry point however, and I think I can forgive him a bunch of mediocre books just for that.

Book Details
Title: Het einde van de magier
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Publisher: Luithingh Fantasy
Pages: 544
Year: 2013
Language: Dutch
Translation: Lia Belt
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-90-245-2892-9
First published: 2013

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