Jander Teregnan is a mage, or, at least, he has the potential to be a mage. Born into a small fishing village, he was always out of place and his strangeness was always unwelcome. Small, slender, and fey, Jander thought it best to go in search of a teacher, someone who could help him harness his powers. Again and again he was tested and found wanting. Finally, he comes to the capital city in search of his last hope, the mage Andrei Teresh. Unfortunately for Jander, Andrei wants nothing to do with him. Fortunately for Jander, the kingdom is about to be engulfed in the flames of a dragon war and Andrei will soon have no choice but to take Jander as his apprentice.
The Magician’s Apprentice is a violent book, opening with a scene of rape. One of the characters has been a prostitute since childhood, and isn’t that far from being a child anymore. Characters are kidnapped, held at knife point, and repeatedly threatened with rape. Jander is even magically assaulted as the dark mage, Kirin, uses his powers to try to bring Jander to orgasm against his will. The scenes themselves aren’t overly graphic, but they may be a bit much for some readers.
Jander is a young man with a healthy libido, a dash of ambition, and a pleasant, easy-going nature. Growing up his father made it clear what he thought of his delicate, different son and I doubt the man shed a tear when Jander left home. Jander’s mother always supported him, though, and it’s that support that helped turn him into the person he is. Again and again, Jander moves to help others, to help the young prostitute, Boaen, fight off his rapist or to take a blow meant to kill Andrei for himself.
Andrei is a powerful mage, advisor to the king, and wary of the idea of taking on a new apprentice. His first, Kirin, turned to evil, and Andrei feels responsible. While he can sense the power in Jander, he’s still nervous of making the same mistakes, and — because he is quite attracted to the young man — he is leery of getting his heart broken, again, should Jander turn on him.
While trying to keep Jander at arm’s length, Andrei urges him to visit the king, a young man closer to Jandedr’s own age, who needs comfort, knowing that King Alluen and Jander might find not only lust in one another’s company, but maybe even something more. Jander has no trouble sleeping with the king, but he does so only to comfort the other man. Much as, when he sleeps with Boaen, he does so as a friend, the two of them taking pleasure from one another even as they know the other person is in love with someone else. At that time, Jander is already well on his way to being in love with Andre, and Boaen has long since been in love with King Alluen. For Jander, sex and love are two different things. Sleeping with a friend isn’t the same as giving his heart to Andrei.
While I approve of the healthy attitudes towards sex, there are some other issues that didn’t quite settle right with me. The world building is barely there and the idea of magic, a dark side and a light side, feels very familiar. Mages oughtn’t have dark emotions like anger and hatred, but instead serve the balance and goodness. There was a generic feel to the town in the book, and so little of it ever showed up on page. Gates, streets, and mentioning the castle was pretty much all the description we were given, and the situation between the king and Boaen made zero sense to me. An an invading army felt like it had maybe a dozen people in it and just waltzed to the castle — where was the rest of the kingdom? What about all the other cities? What about their own army, or guards, or anything?
It’s a small thing, but when a whore from a mid-level, but respectable, brothel wanders into the king’s morning court and walks up to the king himself to say hi, it breaks any sense of reality for me. When the king openly chats with the whore about money, about buying his friend for the evening, he felt less like a king and more like a tactless merchant with more money than taste, or etiquette, or manners.
Regretfully, this is just a flat tire of a book. It’s not horrible, the characters themselves weren’t terrible, and the writing wasn’t bad, but I was left struggling to read it. More than once, I just put it down and went to get another book. I struggled to care enough about it to finish, and was left, overall, with such a lack of opinion. Tepid tropes and indifferent actions left me feeling like I was giving more thought to the story than the story was willing to give back.