The Accidental Sorcerer
(The Rogue Agent trilogy, Book 1)
K. E. Mills
DESCRIPTION: When Stuttey's Superior Staff factory exploded during a visit from Department of Thaumaturgy probationary inspector Gerald Dunwoody, it wasn't his fault... but who would take his word over the irate factory foreman's? Gerald's just a lowly Third Grade wizard, after all, trained by correspondence course, with little ancestry and an unremarkable employment record, while Stuttey's manufactures the best and priciest wizard staffs in all of Ottosland. A factory with that reputation would never, as Gerald claimed, overload faulty thaumaturgical equipment just to boost profits. Besides, if the accident happened the way he described, any Third Grade wizard would be a smoking pile of cinders on the factory floor from the energies unleashed. Gerald himself can't explain what happened, or how he survived, but with the powerful company crying for blood it wouldn't matter if he could. Defamed, unemployed, and broke, he figures he might as well pack in the wizard gig, crawl back to his parents' house, and see if it's not too late to get started in the family trade of tailoring - until he chances upon a job offer halfway across the world.
The kingdom of New Ottosland occupies a small oasis in the vast Kallarapi desert, surrounded by camel-riding heathens. Founded centuries ago and subsequently forgotten by most of the world, they live and die by Tradition. The young King Lional has bold plans for the future of New Ottosland, and try as she might, his practical, headstrong sister Melissande can't talk him out of them... nor can the emissaries of the Kallarapi sultan, whom Lional antagonizes by refusing to pay the traditional tariffs for vital desert trade routes. But the king foresees a day when New Ottosland won't need to kowtow to the desert people, when they will be a force worthy of international respect and attention. All Lional needs to realize his plans is a Court Wizard, and it's up to Melissande to find him one.
The day Gerald Dunwoody accepted the job of Court Wizard of New Ottosland, he thought his troubles were over. Instead, they're just beginning... and before they're through, the factory explosion at Stuttey's will seem as insignificant as a pop cap in a playground.
REVIEW: This book starts out light, meandering towards goofy. Gerald, his friends and enemies, and his magic-dominated world feel clunky and caricatured. Time and again they act in ways that defied their own characters and general logic, just to get one more sarcastic line in or further the slow-building story. I found it difficult to sympathize with them for quite some time. By the time I reached the part where the emissaries of the desert nation were introduced - as infidel-hating grovelers to their triad gods - I wasn't sure I'd have the mental stamina to push through to the end. A few chapters later, the story starts taking some interesting turns. Shades of depth and darkness begin revealing themselves. Even the desert dwellers bring far more to the game board than their inauspicious introduction hints at, becoming far more than pseudo-Arab stereotypes. By the end, Gerald has visited many dark places and done many things he hadn't thought himself capable of... in good ways and bad. The very ending is pretty much foreshadowed by the title, but otherwise the story came to an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, the earlier clunkiness held it down in the ratings, as did some of the characters, who retained several of their more annoying traits long past the point where things went in an otherwise original direction. The worst offender was Gerald's sort-of-girlfriend Reg, a witch cursed centuries ago into a bird's body; not only was her personality so shrewishly annoying that I found it hard to understand how anyone could be friends with her, but she kept contradicting her own desires not to reveal her sentient nature by firing off her ever-loaded tongue at the drop of a proverbial hat. I don't expect I'll follow the rest of the trilogy, but I wouldn't rule the possibility out if I found a cheap enough copy of Book 2.