Art of the Adept
What a roller coaster this read was. Our plot follows Will, who awakens his magic when healing a young boys infection. He is sent to live with his grandfather (of sorts), who becomes a slow and painful magical tutelage, laced with acerbic dialogue and insults around every corner. The dynamic between the two is a joy to read. Eventually, the plot moves on, Will has to spread his wings. As to why, and when, and how, I won't say, because it all falls under spoiler territory.
But the crux of it is this: Will's 'Grandfather' is the last true wizard. There are sorcerers (those who use elementals for their power), warlocks (those that bargain with entities for their power), and then wizards (who use themselves / the environment instead). Every time you use your own soul (gate in the terminology of the world)—like modern wizards do—you shorten your life. Thus, being a wizard isn't a great thing, unless you know how to not use your own lifeforce, like Will and his grandfather.
Reading Will's journey from magically ignorant, to practising spells and runes, to developing his special talents, is very satisfying. The former is the main strength of the books in terms of progression fantasy, because we see Will practising relentlessly, and he progresses rapidly. It feels earned. In the later books, most of Will's power growth is changed to come from natural talents that just develop. They don't feel earned, and compared to his initial spellcasting, are completely broken power wise. I do wish this was done a bit differently, because it feels like the author upped the stakes in each book, but realised their initial system was not suited and needed to throw something else on top to make up the difference. I was still, however, enormously gratifying to see the inventive uses of those talents to solve large scale problems.
Will himself is a ruthless and flawed MC. I love the ruthlessness. I love how it was handled in the first three books. By the fourth and fifth books, I was getting more annoyed at Will, because he has those (humanlike) flaws. For anyone who has read Robin Hobb, you'd understand what I mean about being frustrated with characters, but it still feels genuine because you can see actual human beings making those mistakes.
Will's mistake is simple. He is, in some areas, an absolute moron. There is a lot of character conflict driven by the same "Will, please don't cut me out and keep secrets like this. Please just trust me to make my own decisions." Will says, every time, "You make a good point, that was my bad. I respect you and I do trust you. I won't do it again." Then the character leaves the room, Will looks down the proverbial camera lens, winks, and says "Lol, just kidding, wanna read me do it all again?!"
The frustrating part is that I know people like Will. I can relate to being on the other end. I've seen some negative reviews about this and other characters in book five acting out of character, but I'd disagree with those. The characters behave just like flawed, thinking people would. They've been through hell, they've been under enormous stress, and some of the crack. That's not bad writing, that's a healthy dose of realism in a genre that often skips over those elements.
So, to summarise it all:
- Strong but flawed characters.
- A mix of well earned progression and some fun game changing power bestowing on top.
- Solid worldbuilding.
Give it a read.