By Garth Nix
It sometimes feels that if you have read one fantasy novel, you have read them all. The same tropes crop up again and again. This may be comforting to fans of the genre, but people that dabble may soon become bored. Those of us in the know realise that there is a wealth of variation if you are willing to look for it from High Fantasy all the way to Low. Angel Mage by Garth Nix shares many of the clichés that act as the building blocks of a fantasy book, but by using Angelic Magic he has been able to create something that feels familiar, yet new.
The land of Ystara is a forbidden place, its people cursed and driven out. Where once stood a powerful Kingdom now sits a land full of monsters that will rip you apart. Someone in Ystara misused Angelic magic and placed this curse on the land and people. Many think it was the mysterious Liliath, a powerful Mage who was able to guide some people to safety, before she suddenly disappeared. Over a hundred years on, are people still right to be wary of Liliath? They are about to find out as in a remote grave something begins to stir.
On the surface, Angel Mage is not a fantasy novel that aims to push the envelope. The structure is common to many; four young characters who we follow alternatively until their paths begin to cross. In Simeon, Agnez, Dorotea, and Henri, you have four interesting characters that you can equally enjoy reading as they are so varied. A doctor, a fighter, a scholar and a bureaucrat. As well as these four you follow the plans of Liliath; she has forbidden powers that are revealed as the book evolves.
What makes this book such an entertaining read is the sure-footed style of Nix. This is an experienced and accomplished fantasy writer. He can create a new world and build it with ease. You are informed of the history of Ystara and its surrounding lands without really knowing it, so well woven into the story it is.
The relationship between the four heroes is also a highlight. Not all of them are heroic; in fact, one is far more interested in returning to her studies than trying to save the world. The pitter patter between the characters soon falls into a rhythm and you almost get a fellowship feel about them. Dorotea was my personal favourite as she was part of the action, but was always somewhere else in her mind. She has a fun way of disarming other characters by her lack of common courtesy.
Nix’s quality world building is not only shown in how easily he is able to develop a new land and people, but in the magic of the world and the society. Angel Mage has an interesting magical system; people who can wield power have icons that they can draw an angel to. These angels will then do their will in acts that are like magic. The more powerful the angel, the more it costs. The most powerful summoning can take years off a life.
The way in which Nix paints a cosmopolitan society is done in a relaxed manner and is refreshing. Women and men hold equal footing in both positions of power and in love. There is an easy touch style to the way that characters fancy those around them, be they man or women. There is no weight played into this, it just feels natural and it really adds to the sense of world building.
Angel Mage does not reinvent the fantasy genre, but it utilises the tools in an interesting way. The story is fast paced with interesting characters. There is a world that does feel different and is able to blend elements of low fantasy with high magic. It is the type of book that a fantasy fan will love and devour in a few sittings, but it also has an easy style and welcoming cast that non-fans of the genre will also finish the book happy.
Written on 24th October 2019 by Sam Tyler .