Bandits have descended upon the Middle Lands and they have with them some powerful weather magic. People and their livelihoods are being threatened while the vicious cold makes it near impossible to make a recovery. While King Ardan is doing his best to manage, his younger brother, Gareth, knows their tiny kingdom of farming folk and shaggy goats will need help. Magical help. So Gareth sets off to find the most powerful magician of all and, against all odds, Gareth actually finds him on a tropical, uncharted island.
Gareth is not the first person to stumble upon Lorre’s dwelling, not the first desperate man and not the first prince, either. No, there are other things that set Gareth apart. Like Gareth’s determination to have the former Grand Sorcerer at least hear his requests. Like Gareth bringing a book to pass the time awaiting an audience with that sorcerer. Like Gareth’s earth-warm eyes that see Lorre as he wants to be seen, despite Gareth having read centuries of legends about the half-human, half-magic sorcerer. Maybe helping a needy prince from a relatively poor and certainly small kingdom will help prove that Lorre still is the most powerful sorcerer out there. Even if Lorre himself has come to understand that being the most powerful does not mean the best.
Instantly, Gareth and Lorre share an attraction, though Lorre is convinced Gareth is merely offering himself up as payment for services to be rendered at a future date. And Gareth finds it incredibly difficult to convey to Lorre that, despite being royalty, he is most himself when literally taking care of others. Even as their bond shifts from fun-while-it-lasts to something more permanent, they will have to answer questions from all quarters. Not the least of which are from Gareth’s family about the prince being seduced. And questions from the current Grand Sorceress, who argues Lorre himself simply being with Gareth would be an unfair advantage to an otherwise remote place. Finally, there is the question of how a being made of magic could hope to build something that lasts with a very human prince.
Magician is an ephemerally historical, concretely fantasy romance from author K.L. Noone. It is also, I found out, a sequel to Sorceress. As often as I feel I’ve seen the author’s name around, this is the first of her stories I have picked up. And every word delighted me. The whole story is entirely driven by the richly described characters with Lorre and Gareth at the center.
Lorre has a strong irreverent quality to him. He’s lived for centuries; he’s made of magic that allows him to literally become various things in the world. And for all that Lorre has an extremely clear self-image, I enjoyed how his cutting understanding of who he is and what he has done conflicts with the Lorre that Gareth comes to know. More plainly, Lorre insists he’s selfish and impetuous and all manner of self-serving things; that he’s the most powerful magician to ever have lived, so he’s too magical to be human; that he’s not worthy of the kind of emotion Gareth is so eager to shower upon him. This stems from his past (all off-page, though Lorre makes enough off-hand comments about it for readers to get the gist), when he enjoyed being the Grand Sorcerer. In the back matter, Noone confirms that Lorre is the problematic character from her book Sorceress (which I have not read, nor did I feel like I was missing anything from this book when I found out it was a sequel). Clearly, Lorre’s own history expects the world to interact with him in a certain way: with fear and loathing, especially. He’s utterly thrown when Gareth, even knowing the histories written about him, only evaluates Lorre within the context of the time they spend together.
Gareth clearly enjoys the time they spend together. From the start, Gareth and Lorre felt like they had an odd-couple chemistry, with Lorre feeling high maintenance and Gareth having patience to spare to address each of Lorre’s demands. I loved how this set up the fear that Gareth is only offering what he must in order to secure Lorre’s help; that is a theme that shoots through much of their relationship until declarations of love are exchanged at the most inopportune moment. I also loved how Gareth comes across as a juxtaposition. He says he doesn’t want to be a hero and certainly doesn’t seem to see himself like that. But Lorre points out all the heroic things Gareth does in the name of helping his people. There’s also the way he is counter to what one likely expects of a prince. Gareth doesn’t have a single pompous bone in his body. He will quite literally fix your broken fence just because it needs doing. The combination between the two love interests made for a great dynamic.
As far as the pacing of the book goes, I liked how the first half or so of the book imagines how Lorre and Gareth travel and fall in love, though the words are never said. Maybe it will feel like slow progress towards the apparent goal of getting to Gareth’s kingdom to stop the bandits, but the emotional connection these two find along the way was incredibly steamy and tender. Plus, Noone uses this as a way to illustrate how Gareth affects Lorre, who often points out he is only half-human and seems to use it as a sort of shield against Gareth’s indefatigable goodness. Their physical connection sets in motion a great shift in Lorre’s character, nudging him towards rejoining a world he had mostly abandoned.
The bandit thread comes in during the second half or so of the story. This highlights just how powerful Lorre’s magic is. Not that it was in doubt, but much of it up until the bandits arrived felt academic. Statements about what Lorre could do, but wasn’t being asked to. Showcasing how much Lorre enjoyed literally returning to the elements and how he first did it to shock/scandalize his new prince companion. Not only did I get a greater sense of how much Lorre could handle, it opened the door to a bit of hurt/comfort. Maybe using magic didn’t actually hurt Lorre, but it did have some noticeable physical effects that set Gareth’s need to comfort and serve into high gear. The bandit thread also paved the way for Lorre and Gareth to have a conversation (albeit one I would have loved to have seen extended more) about how their relationship could move forward given life spans and personal revelations about past romantic entanglements.
Overall, I thought Magician was a stunningly engaging read. I adored Noone’s lyrical prose. The way Lorre experiences the beauty in the world, the beauty in his lover was wonderfully tender. Gareth is charmingly affable, with a bit of an aw-shucks appeal coupled with fierce dedication to people he wishes to protect. Personally, I found the romance elements to be intensely engaging while still retaining that little question of “is this truly real?” The book also has a delightful resolution that pulls in characters from the first book in a more concrete manner and ends with a side story that cements Lorre and Gareth’s relationship in no uncertain terms.