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A Young Man Without Magic
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Tor, 348 pages

A Young Man Without Magic
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Lawrence Watt-Evans is the Maryland-based author of more than two dozen novels and over a hundred short stories, most notably the Ethshar fantasy series and the Obsidian Chronicles. He is part-owner of a chain of comic book shops. He served two years as president of the Horror Writers Association, 1994-1996, and a year as treasurer of Science fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, 2003-2004, as well as holding various lesser offices in HWA, SFWA, and Novelists Inc. He married his high school sweetheart in 1977, has two children in college, and lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Lawrence Watt-Evans Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Summer Palace
SF Site Review: The Turtle Moves!: Discworld's Story So Far
SF Site Review: The Turtle Moves!: Discworld's Story So Far
SF Site Review: The Wizard Lord
SF Site Review: Touched By The Gods

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Enzinas

I've been a huge fan of Lawrence Watt-Evans since I was a tween and read The Misenchanted Sword. I had high hopes for A Young Man Without Magic as it looked like a good young adult book showing a young man's political awakening. I was sure that his tight dialogue, breezy descriptions, artfully constructed words and fully realized characters would make this an elegant work painted in shades of gray.

The book tells the story of a young man who has no ability with magic (making him a commoner) who returns home after completing his studies (a dilettante with a liberal arts degree) and learns that the political unrest of the capital has spread and everywhere people are unhappy with the way things are being done. His best friend (and his uncle's adopted protégé) has become politically active and starts butting heads with the local authority. His stupidity and lack of discretion get him killed and, for revenge, our hero gives a speech about commoner's rights and causes a riot.

He goes on the lam, discovered that he has magic powers after all (Surprise! he was just suppressing them due to childhood trauma) while traveling with magical outlaws who give him more experience with the plight of the commoner. Eventually the outlaws also do something stupid and one of them gets caught and is going to be killed. Our hero once again summons up all of his courage and gives another speech causing another riot but his friend still dies.

Except for the speeches, the dialogue was tight, the descriptions perfect, the world artfully crafted and the characters fully realized. The problem was, I didn't care about any of them. Our hero seemed content to be pushed along by circumstance with never any real desire to make any changes. Ennui is not a character flaw that leads to interesting writing. The villain of the piece knows who is causing problems but seems to need to be pushed to do anything really villainous. The world ended up being painted less in shades of gray than shades of beige.

I get the impression that Mr. Watt-Evans wanted to show how the political was personal but he chose to write in a style that did not do it justice. Perhaps the next book will have more activism in it. This one was just a long, tepid set-up.

Copyright © 2010 John Enzinas

John Enzinas reads frequently and passionately. In his spare time he plays with swords.

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