First things first: I have to admit part of my reasoning for not being overly fond of this book is actually my own fault. I am a *huge* fan of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series, so when I saw Mage's Blood compared to that, I jumped on it without reading the rest of the blurb. Generally I prefer science fiction and historical literature to outright fantasy, and this is above all a fantasy novel - with a much heavier leaning on the story of a magical society than that in Martin's ASOIAF novels.
However, I'm still torn about rating it. Both the characters and the general writing style are exemplary - so much so, in fact, that if it weren't for several other major issues I would have been more inclined to give it a much higher rating. Those major issues are as follows:
- If I wasn't the type of person who needs to finish any book I start reading, I would have given up on this one after a few hundred pages at most, because *nothing* - outside of descriptions of a ridiculous 'fantasy' world and character posturing - happens. For a very long time.
- The 'rules' behind the magic in this book are some combination of confusing, maddening, and nonexistent. Things that the reader is told can't happen, later do. There needs to be this bridge that only appears every twelve years to connect the two continents, because the sea between them is impassable, yet after this is explained we find out that people are crossing that same sea on 'windships' left and right. If these were things that Hair planned on developing, he should have done a better job of explaining them.
- And now my biggest gripe: While most fantasy novels take things from real life (sometimes outright and sometimes making them their own), the world of Mage's Blood is almost entirely derived from specific geographic locations and cultures that actually exist. Not only that, but most (if not all) of the badly (or barely) disguised races are pictured in extremely stereotypical manners. For an author to go through the hard work of plotting a series like this, and peopling it with some great main characters - only to throw all of that away by putting next to no effort into the fantasy world as a whole - is just sad.
"She became a constantly shifting set of lies and illusions..."
"She was no one's idea of beautiful, she knew that, and unlike any other woman she knew, even other magi. For a second she felt that wave of loneliness again, and quelled it irritably."
"People do the worst evil when they do not have to take responsibility themselves but can blame others."
"'I've never believed that a man is good or evil. Deeds might be, but men are a summation of their actions and their intentions, words and thoughts.'"
"'One of my father's favorite sayings was "Truth is Perception". It means that what you believe, however right or wrong, that is your truth, and it will be shaped by who you are, what you've seen, your gender, your race, your religion, your history.'"
"'Beware, Wife, of people who claim to speak the words of God. They will be lying. Most of the world's biggest liars claim to speak for God.'"
"...a mage whose nature is hot-tempered is often a Fire-mage. But it should be noted that sometimes that affinity is more subtle; not all fire-magi are hot-tempere, for fire can be many things. It is not enough to know your enemy's affinities - you must also know their soul."
"'Love is a great healer. People who love want to heal; they have energy and ambition. And I don't mean chaste poetry-reciting love, I mean sweaty animal love.'"
"Men are never slow to scorn women who insist on wearing swords."
"'...when a man takes a woman he has conquered. He is victorious, he has triumphed, while the woman is ruined, sullied by that same act.'"
"In war, all choices are evil."
"What is mercy? To spare an enemy so he can come after you?"