There are some parts of An Unexpected Apprentice by Jodi Lynn Nye which may sound a little familiar. A magical world with a number of magical races. One of them is a race of kind people smaller than humans. One of the characters is a wise old wizard. There’s a quest, involving a group made up of several races. There’s an object of immense power on the loose, which could destroy the world. Said-object tempts its bearer to use its power for his or her own gain.
Some of it, I suppose, is archetypal. Some of it is Lord of the Rings. I could forgive An Unexpected Apprentice for resembling Lord of the Rings, but it’s harder to forgive it for being, well, kind of bland. I’m not sure why I was left with that feeling of blandness. There are dangers, and the world is reasonably well-developed. But maybe the world lacks enough details, and maybe I didn’t care enough about any (except one) of the characters to feel much concern about the dangers.
One good point: I do like that object of immense power. Rather than a ring, it’s a book. The Great Book that holds everything’s true sign, from individuals to entire countries. Change the sign, and you change the thing. Destroy the sign in the book, you destroy whatever it represents. There’s something fascinating about that.
The essential plot of An Unexpected Apprentice is that someone has stolen the Great Book, and Tildi (a Halfling, one of those small people mentioned above) and her friends go on a quest to get it back and restore it to a place of safety. Tildi and all the rest are nice enough, but no one on the quest made much of an impression on me. I wanted to like Tildi, if only because I have a soft spot for girls who disguise themselves as boys to go pursue their dreams (ever since reading The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce). Tildi does that at the beginning, although she’s unmasked as soon as she takes up her apprenticeship with the wizard. But despite that, I never developed much attachment to her.
No one in the book experienced that problem. That is actually at the root of one of the book’s biggest problems, and certainly one of the most easily defined. The other characters like Tildi too much. That sounds odd, but what I mean by it is that they have all only recently met her, yet they worry about her, care about her, appreciate her–when I don’t feel Nye has built relationships that would justify it. It almost feels as though the other characters know that she’s the main character.
There is one great and glorious exception to this band of so-so characters, and that is Magpie. He’s a prince who travels around in an alternate guise as a minstrel. During a recent war, he became a close friend of the enemy king by becoming the minstrel at his court. He’s engaged to a princess, has a volatile relationship with his family, and is charming and witty and a bit roguish. All around, he’s the kind of character I could love. Unfortunately, he’s only here in a supporting role, and we find out most of the above as backstory.
If I find out that Nye has written a book just about Magpie, I’d pick it up. But so far, despite doing some searching, I haven’t found anything. There is a sequel about Tildi. But so far I haven’t picked that one up. I said this blog would be about sharing favorites and warning you off of some not so good books…and this post is much more of a warning.