Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: "The Galactic Mage" by John Daulton

When I first read the description of "The Galactic Mage," I was intrigued by the way it promised to combine science fiction with fantasy. It was $2.99 and got good reviews, so why not?

It starts off as two stories told side by side. On the fantasy side, Altin Meade is a sorcerer training with the preeminent sorcerer of his land. In the way his people measure magic, he's a Six, which means that he can work six of the eight kinds of magic. His strength is teleportation, which he's using to explore space. Through trial and error, he visits his planet's moon, then the planets in his solar system, and then he ventures farther afield. He's searching for signs of life, which he finds when he's attacked by what he terms "coconut monsters." Luckily, he's got magical defenses.

On the science fiction side, ensign Orli Pewter is aboard a fleet of Earth ships heading to investigate a distress signal from another planet of humans. They arrive, only to discover it's devoid of human life. No bodies, no ruined cities, no sign of civilization at all. The crew — which has been traveling for 10 years — is torn over whether they should search for the Hostiles who destroyed the Andalian civilization or return to Earth. Orli only wants to get off the ship before her life is over.

The stories unite as the characters face the same opponent; what Altin calls "coconut monsters," the fleet calls the Hostiles. They're a neat concept: a large ball of rock that floats in space and attacks by shooting lance-like portions of itself at its enemies. As they're able to avoid counterattacks nearly without fail, they're as confounding to the technologically advanced fleet as they are to medieval-age Altin.

Until I got to the end of this book, I liked it. The author managed to keep my interest as he switched back and forth between the story lines. The fantasy was detailed in all the right ways, the cast of characters that surrounded Altin was fun to read, and the system of magic was suitably complex. The science fiction was compelling, and I had a lot of sympathy for Orli as an unwilling recruit who was essentially conscripted into service when her father enlisted. Imagine if you never wanted to spend 20 years of your life on a space mission but literally had no way out.

However, this book, which started out as an improbably enjoyable hybrid, turned into something I had to force myself to finish. The dual storylines were what hooked my interest, but in the end, the way they were united killed my enjoyment.

I can't say more without revealing too much of the ending. If you want to read my specific complaint about the end, highlight the next paragraph. If not, know that I would give this book three stars because I think the first three-quarters is well-done, but I'm leery of buying another John Daulton book.

Spoilers follow: As soon as Orli and Altin lay eyes on each other, this morphs into a romance novel. Orli is smitten merely by the sight of Altin, and the feeling is mutual. They quickly fall so deeply in love that Orli becomes all but catatonic when she loses Altin. When they're reunited by proxy and her people are invited to his planet, she is granted status as the most important woman in the whole fleet, simply because she's Altin's girl. (Why that matters, considering Altin isn't depicted as having close ties to the throne, I'm not sure.) In its final pages, "The Galactic Mage" becomes an over-the-top redoing of Cinderella. There's even the queen to play the role of the fairy godmother, complete with transportation, a makeover and a ball. I'm not sure how to describe it, other than to say that the ending didn't have the same "feel" as the beginning or middle.

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