One of my dearest online friends bought me this book recently and had it sent to me all across the world. Thank you so much Wheeler.
The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.
It has been a while since I have actually read a book, that wasn’t one of my own, and for the purpose of editing, so I must admit, I am not a good reader anymore.
I am so used to… being in charge of the story. Of being critical. Of tearing the characters apart, to make them believable, to make them come alive… I am too used to being the game master. Suddenly being “just” the reader was quite a challenge. I kept thinking stuff like, “aw, that’s an old story, do you really want to use that again?” or “that didn’t feel completely believable, what am I missing to make this person ring true?” or “that’s convenient writing…”
So be warned, I actually like this book, I think. I am just not used to being powerless. I love having things my way, and this writer and I, sure don’t see eye to eye on most things. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I sure have been thinking a lot about my own writing, while reading this book.
So basically Heriot is a very classic “extraordinary fantasy boy.” Suffering from headaches, dreams and nightmares all his childhood, he grows up thinking that something is wrong with him, until one day, some stranger shows up in a very “you are a wizard Harry” kind of moment. Which made me wonder how old the book was. If it had been from, I don’t know, the 1980ties that would have been excusable. Turns out, it is a relatively young book, from 2009. Which leads me back to, come on… the sick, suffering child, who turns out to be the most powerful wizard this world have ever seen? Now where have we seen that before… *cough, Raistlin Majere, chough* I don’t know, somehow I felt that the basis for the story was a bit… unoriginal.
And that is unfair, because evey story sure have by now been written, so it is only a matter of how interesting a writer makes her story. I liked it that Heriot had a specific boy he saw in his dreams. I was kind of looking forward to having that mystery solved. Why would those two boys link to each other in their dreams, without ever having met? Now, that was something neither Harry, nor Raistlin did…
Heriot doesn’t want to go work for the king, so he runs away once the kings men comes for him. He is twelve at the time.
I always found it hard to work with children, because most of the time, they tend to become too grown up in books and movies. For a twelve year old boy, Heriot reasons like a very wise, very old adult most of the time. The whole scene where his “occupant” his magic side comes to life, is… I didn’t believe it. His thoughts are just too reasonable for a child of that age. That did make me hope that once he grew up I would come to really like him, once I could allow him to be that… reasonable.
I never quite understood why he ran away from the kings men though. Maybe that is just me, completely not “getting” his character. But it felt a lot like he had to run away for two reasons. One, he had to meet the Hero, so we would know that the Hero was not a good guy at all and two, he had to meet Dysart, the boy in his dreams.
The only trouble is, Heriot ends up with the king anyway, where he would have met Dysart almost instantly, since Dysart is the king’s son. He would have met the Hero too, since he is a huge part of the kings regime and no one ever doubted if he was a good guy or not, even without his encounter with Heriot. So really, that whole part of the book does very little to further the story, and I dare say…. It could have been left out.
Then we have Cayley.
Heroit can read minds, thoughts everything. Except for this street child he meets, Cayley, a boy he finds interesting, (Heriot is seventeen when they meet, Cayley is twelve…) mostly because he feels that he knows him and well, he can’t read him.
Now, where have we heard that before… *cough, Twilight, cough* What was it again, about how Edward could read minds, everyone except for Bella’s? And yeah, I checked, Twilight is from 2005 so it does predate the Magician of Hoad. Yes, I read Twilight by the way, all four of them. Just so we are clear on that. I am not even ashamed to admit it. I truly don’t think they are much worse than a lot of other books and I find it kind of amusing how everyone is shaming them… Anyway, this is not about Twilight…
So, Heriot kind of takes in Cayley. They have a rather detailed scene where Heriot wants’ Cayley to shower and the boy refuses to get naked around Heriot, to which Heriot easily states that he is not the kind of man who goes after little boys, so Cayley has nothing to fear.
Fair enough. That sure closed the door on a new Twilight romance, ha? Only the writer keeps dropping strange remarks, making someone like me think, why? What is she hinting at? Is she hinting at anything or is it just my overly imaginative mind, wanting to read a meaning into everything?
People in the city even start talking about Heriot and the boy… Funny stories, the reader is told…
Aw come on. Here is where I am missing a big part of Heriot’s personality. So, what, are people in town saying that the king’s magician is gay? And if they are, does it bother him? Or am I way off track here?
And then the big revelation. Cayley is not a boy. Only they have lived together for about five years by then, so no longer a child, she reveals that she is in fact a woman.
I don’t know about you, but if one of my best friends suddenly sprung something like that on me, my first instinct wouldn’t be to kiss the person… let’s say, one of my girlfriends suddenly jumped out at me and revealed that she was in fact a man… I am thinking I would be feeling betrayed, like she hadn’t trusted me with who she was, like, I didn’t know the person at all… I am thinking that our friendship could survive it, but it would take a bit of time for me to get to know her again, as a man. And unless I had been secretly in love with her always, I wouldn’t fall in love with her as a man… I mean, just no…
Heriot and Cayley were friends. As soon as she becomes a woman, they become lovers, and the fact that he once made it very clear that he was not interested in her at all, as a man, just… goes away. I don’t know. I am going to have to think about that one. That does not work for me at all. Maybe that is because I do believe in love, not so much in gender. I believe that when you fall in love with someone, the sex doesn’t matter much. Somehow, allowing them to love when she is a girl, but not when she is a boy, kind of trivializes love for me. Makes it less beautiful. Just ordinary boy meets girl, gets her pregnant, lives happily ever after….
For all I care, they could have remained friends, Cayley could have remained a boy as well. Their friendship was much more beautiful than their sudden love affair…
I know, I am not ordinary. I can’t help it. I guess it’s my luck that I’ll never meet someone who can read my mind… they would run away in fear in a matter of seconds…
And then we have the convenient writing. Like, Cayley had to rescue Heriot. Clearly we needed a rescue scene. Clearly the writer wanted it to be that way. So Heriot is taken captive and his magic fails him. Really fails him. For the first time ever, for no reason, and as soon as he is rescued by Cayley, his magic is restored.
Wow, now that is convenient, having his magic fail like that.
I know, it’s really hard to work with a wizard, because you just don’t tie them to a wall and lock them up. They will escape, bloody bastards. You have to always take into account that they can do things ordinary people can’t, but if you need their magic to fail, so they can become a victim for a while, at least think of a water proof reason… Like Raistlin, saving the world from himself, surrendering to the Dark Queen, letting her torture him forever after for his insolence… Now that works, because she is a God and he chooses, after all, to remain human. (Yes, I am a huge fan of Dragon Lance, not ashamed to admit that either.)
So, before I begin writing a book about this book, there is just one more thing. What did happen to Talgesi? Did I miss that or was he just left… hanging?
Now, the first born son of Hoad, Betony has a boy who has grown up with him as his servant, his plaything and to some extend, a friend. (Again with the hints of something you are never told…) Once Betony is to be married, he has to let go of Talgesi. (Because you can’t have a servant once you are married? What, are they lovers? What am I missing?) Anyway, Betony asks Talgesi to kill himself because he doesn’t want him to live on and find a new friend, or a new master. He doesn’t want to know that he can be replaced.
Now, that is a story I can get into. What do you do in that situation, with a vindictive crown prince, not wanting to keep you anymore, and not wanting to get your blood on his hands by killing you himself? I could have soooo run with that story…
But Mahy doesn’t. We are never told how that situation is resolved.
So, should you read it?
Well, I think so, yes. It is not as bad as I make it sound. I just can’t help it…
It is fantasy, it is nothing new, but it is a sweet story and if you need to kill a few hours while, say waiting on your vet to show up or your mechanic to hand back your vehicle, it is a very nice book. It won’t leave you in tears, it won’t make you laugh out loud and make strangers look at you like you are utterly insane, it’s smooth. Comfortable. Safe.
I could never have written it. And that is not meant in a negative way. I am not saying I am a better writer, don’t get me wrong. Just that we are very different. But I guess since Wheeler likes both The Starstone Series and The Magician of Hoad, one does not exclude each other. That has its own kind of beauty.
It is all in the eyes of the reader, and luckily we are all different.
Besides, it really is a good book, most of the time.