Rise of the Mages – Scott Drakeford

By | July 27, 2023

Growing up, most of the books available to me were used until around the time I hit my teens. More than half a million people in my home stomping grounds, and the only new books came from mail order, the community college bookstore, or the occasional Scholastic order form (we didn’t have the traveling book fairs until I hit junior high).

The used stores weren’t terrible; my folks sought them out and found well stocked places we could raid. The shops were fed by an eclectic, traveling, educated professional class who occasionally needed to dump a bunch of cool books their new job wouldn’t pay to move.

That included a lot of early 20th century kid-fic, which was very heavily East Coast influenced. Getting a real bookstore made some difference. But the majority of content was still put out by a real buffet of mayo and seltzer style folk – not people like me, in my lived experiences. The books were about boys, doing “boy” stuff, and girls were pretty secondary. There were books about girls, doing “girl” stuff (horse riding, solving mysteries, getting into trouble for being “tom boys”).

There were few exceptions of people just doing people stuff, Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary, and just about anything by Paula Danziger that wasn’t Amber Brown (no hate, just didn’t happen to read), and several of Barthe DeClements books.

I wanted to read more than kid books pretty early, but there wasn’t much for older kids but not adults that weren’t romance or sports. I tried to get my hands on high fantasy and sci-fi beyond Narnia and The Phantom Toll Booth. No one really wrote high fantasy or sci-fi for kids. What little I could find of it was pretty unrelatable to me – written at a language level I couldn’t get, with not much context to hang my comprehension on. And so much of it was so terribly, terribly, terribly misogynistic, even to a tween. 

Except The Hobbit. I didn’t mind so much that I didn’t get all of it, at first read, because it was relatable. Unwanted guests, snacks, and an adventure? Sign me up! Sometimes I still can taste the food described in it, and think up my own hobbit-style foods. It was officially a “tenth grade” book, but I had a friendly high schooler to loan me their copy early on.

Be that as it may, I never really got into the euro-centric kind of fantasy settings of most high fantasy. But I pick them up from time to time and try, at least for a few chapters.

I do like the new genre of urban fantasy. I think what the industry means by urban is in the city, and modern, not code word for “black and brown people” being poor and lifted up by managing to get accepted despite their melanin or genital “deficiencies”.

So I picked up Rise of the Mages to get more of what The Publishing Rodeo podcast was about.

High fantasy? Check. Magic? Check. Guys and girls exerting power in political ways? Check. Nobles, nepotism, peasants, and enslaved bodies and minds? Check check and check. Geopolitcal manouverings based on grudges old and new? Yup. A lot of what I’d not liked about high fantasy wasn’t in there, and the main character (the only one deeply focussed on, ensembles aren’t easy) felt relatably going along, not monolithic or a complete woolheaded foundling de’jour.

Overall, it’s solid. I have to agree with the consensus of the podcast that Tor should have put more behind it. Since I don’t read fantasy, maybe it’s not that remarkable in the genre, but the structure and layout of the storylines he spun remind me of early non-thrillers* by Ken Follett. 

Give it a pick up. For sure. 

(this is not an affiliate link, but a store I have purchased from in the past)


*Ken Follett writes thrillers, but really rocketed up there with his book The Pillars of The Earth, and was given more room to go for non thriller generational epics and has done pretty well with that. He discusses this in one of the reprint editions of Pillars:

One day I was checking my royalty statement from New American Library, my U.S. paperback publisher. These statements are carefully designed to prevent the author from knowing what is really happening to his book, but after decades of persistence I have learned to read them. And I noticed that Pillars was still selling around 50,000 copies every six months.