Next up: “Feast of Souls” by C.S. Friedman
This is the first book in Friedman’s Magister Trilogy.
In this world, magic comes at a price, and that price is the human soul. Witches have the ability to heal disease, to influence the world around them, to change themselves even. But it comes at the cost of their lives– each spell draws death inevitably closer. Magister also have the ability to work spells… but they do not consign themselves to death to do so. Instead, they bind themselves randomly to another person somewhere in the world, and use their spirit to fuel the magic. This is the great secret of the Magisters, that they keep hidden from all but their own order, because if it were known, the world would rally against them.
There are a few main players in the plot– Kamala is a former child whore who is determined to become the first female Magister. Andovan is the prince of a powerful kingdom who falls ill with the Wasting, a mysterious disease that none but the Magisters know is caused by a Magister drawing upon the victim’s spirit. The King demands that the Magisters heal his son, and, determined to keep the truth about the Wasting hidden, they begin searching for the Magister who is drawing from Andovan.
At the same time, a danger from long ago threatens to return and destroy humanity. A corrupt advisor begins to lead the King astray, while his Queen receives premonitions of doom. Andovan and Kamala each begin their own journeys, the duo fated to cross paths.
After reading and loving Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, I was really excited to begin the Magister Trilogy. Unfortunately, I found it really hard to get into the story, and after slogging through this first book, had to give it up as a failed venture. I just couldn’t connect to the story. It has a really interesting premise– such a high price for magic brings in fascinating questions of morality and ethics (if you can use one soul to power the magic to save many, is it ‘right’ to do so?). There are a lot of implications there that actually brought up a lot of my memories of the moral philosophy class I took in college. It’s really cool and really thought provoking. But I just couldn’t get interested. Maybe it was the characters? I couldn’t really find one that I really cared enough about to want to know what happens to them. I’m sure that played a part.
I also was really annoyed and frustrated with the idea that women “couldn’t” become Magisters (or it was really difficult for them, so difficult that there haven’t been any female Magisters) because they have some inherent aversion to taking a life for power (and to save their own, because failing in the attempt to become a Magister means dying). What, just because they can bear children? What a load of malarkey. Morality isn’t influenced by biology, it’s a social and cultural construct that personal experience can also shape. Gendering the subject is just ridiculous and actually kind of insulting to both men and women.
I just couldn’t do this book. Unfortunate, but there it is.
Spousal abuse and rape. Also implied sexual abuse (thanks to Kamala’s backstory as a whore).