Friday, March 19, 2004

Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook

This is the first Baen Free Library review, which I promised in this post.

I wrote something of a very thumbnail review of "The Wiz Biz" in this BLOG entry and would like to go a little further here.

The First two books in Rick Cook's "Wizardry" series are Wizard's Bane and The Wizardry Compiled. They are currently in print in the omnibus book The Wiz Biz.

Suffice it to say, if you buy The Wiz Biz you have both the books I'm going to review here.

The third and fourth books in the series have also been made available in an omnibus.

Book 1: Wizard's BaneOmnibus 1: Wiz Biz
Book 2: Wizardry Compiled
Book 3: Wizardry CursedOmnibus 2: Cursed and Consulted
Book 4: Wizardry Consulted
Book 5: The Wizardry Quested

Wizard's Bane

Story Summary

The first book in the series introduces us to the principal characters. First there's Wiz Zumwalt himself, a California computer programmer who gets magically transported to a world where magic is real. He never intended to make the trip, and didn't have much say in the matter. Unfortunately for him, the wizard who brings him over is killed within a few seconds of his unwilling arrival.

Unable to safely send The Wiz back, Bal-Simba, head wizard for the "Good Guys" tasks a Hedge Witch named Moira with getting The Wiz to safety. In this case, safety is a region where magic just doesn't exist, a dead zone where he would, theoretically, be safe.

Moria isn't happy about this task, and blames the Wiz for the death of the Wizard who snatched him from his own world.

The romantic tension between them follows a standard "hate each other before falling in love" path. During their journey, The Wiz learns more about this new world, realizing that Magic operates in a manner similar to computer programming. While he learns, his body also changes, as the rigors of travel harden his muscles and allow him to grow acclimated to the discomfort of life in the wild.

Early on, he learns about the stalemate between the forces of good and evil, and how any powerful use of magic by either side resulted in swift attacks and bloodshed. It's this cold war that gets the Wizard who kidnaped The Wiz killed, and makes it impossible to send him back without the Wizard who weaves the spell getting himself killed in the process.

Eventually, things come to a head, and The Wiz has to use his newfound magical skills to rescue Moria from the clutches of the most powerful dark Wizard in the world.

What I thought

The overall story is somewhat predictable, but the twists and touches are a delight. I could have done without the Moonlighting esque feel to Wiz and Moria's early interactions. There are plenty of inside jokes that might take a few minutes of head scratching to get, but just about all of them are laugh out loud hilarious.

The general idea could have gone wrong in so many ways, and while the book lacks a certain polish compared to great works of literature, the writing is well above the average for paperback Sci Fi writing. The main characters are interesting and well described, even if the background characters are a bit cliche.

The book is also very irreverent, being as much a parody of the Fantasy genre as it is an example of it. The cliche based characters are done in such a way as to highlight the most entertaining points of the character.

Favorite Moment

After Moria has been kidnaped, The Wiz creates a spell that will search the entire world for her. Instead of a single, massive entity that scours the land over the course of years (The traditional method of doing such things), he has millions of smaller creatures wink in and out of existence all over the world. A search that any other wizard would need years to complete is done in a matter of minutes.

Classic computer science, but the thing I found most amusing was that the form The Wiz chose for this search spell is that of R2D2, and the great moment came when the familiar droid appeared in the inner chamber of the head villain, swirled it's head around, beeped and winked out of existence. Read the book for the fiend's humorous reaction.

Least Favorite Moment

The major work being parodied is of course, the Lord of the Rings, and this gets a bit tiring at times. Through most of the book, the parody is woven into the fabric of the story in such a way as to not be a distraction. there are, however, scenes where the parody is stretched in such a way as to break the suspension of disbelief. Most of these involve sequences clearly based on the Fellowship of the Ring's journey through the mines or Moria.

Overall Recommendation

This is a light hearted book that pokes fun at Fantasy writing and the people who love it. It's an excellent book for both fans and critics of Fantasy writing. Those who hate Fantasy will enjoy seeing it ripped to shreds, and those who love it will get a kick at a well done parody.

Besides, it's available for free. Who can beat that?

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