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A Young Man Without Magic    by Lawrence Watt-Evans order for
Young Man Without Magic
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The dedication (to Rafael Sabatini) of Lawrence Watt-Evans' A Young Man Without Magic immediately grabbed my attention and I soon found echoes of Sabatini's French Revolutionary historical Scaramouche in this entertaining new fantasy.

Just as Sabatini's Andre-Louis hovered between two worlds, so does Watt-Evans' Anrel Murau, a scholar who, despite being the son of two sorcerors, is without magic of his own. Though he actually has inherited a talent for it, Anrel deliberately failed the test, due to his horror as a small child over finding his parents dead after a spell gone wrong. As the story opens, Anrel returns home to 'Aulix, one of the richest provinces in the Walasian Empire' after years of study in the capital, Lume (Anrel has been raised by his sorceror uncle Dorias).

Though sorcerors, the realm's aristocracy, control the forces of nature, food shortages have recently caused growing discontent in Walasia and there is great interest from the populace in the Emperor's recent summoning of the Grand Council. Though this is only a ploy to increase taxes, idealists - like Anrel's best friend Valin (a mediocre sorceror fostered in his uncle Dorias' household) - hope for radical change.

When Anrel returns, he finds Valin irate with the province's ruler, Lord Allutar, over his plan to execute the baker's son for stealing herbs from his garden. Complicating matters is the fact that Anrel's cousin Saria is about to be betrothed to Allutar. Like Sabatini's Andre-Louis, a cynical Anrel has little interest in politics until Allutar kills his friend in a sorcerous duel. Promising that 'Lord Valin's voice will be heard', Anrel (calling himself Alvos) makes a seditious speech that incites riots and sends him on the run from authorities.

So far the plot parallels Scaramouche (even in Anrel's hatred for the ruthless Allutar versus Andre-Louis' enmity for the equally coldhearted Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr). The similarities continue when Anrel joins up with a group of traveling witches (who, against the law, apply their small talents to help commoners) - Andre-Louis joined an acting troupe. Anrel falls in love with Tazia, one of the young witches. But their plans for a life together are foiled when Tazia's elder sister Reva accepts a commission to bespell Lord Allutar.

Though Anrel tries to help Reva, this does not end well, though it does result in another inflammatory speech from Alvos, who has, despite himself, become 'an enemy of order, a destroyer of the peace'. As this first book ends, Anrel has lost everything he valued, but is back in Lume, with his life and a 'fragmentary and untrained magic'. I look forward to reading more of this marvelous reinvention of Scaramouche.

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