Review: The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

Book review of Karen Miller’s The Innocent Mage


I really didn’t know what to expect leading up to reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller.  I’d seen some recent publicity for The Prodigal Mage, and it seemed to be making a bit more noise than the first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books.  I admittedly picked up the book on a whim, perusing the options at my local bookstore, and honestly chose the book by its cover.  Probably the last time I’ll ever make that mistake.  The Innocent Mage is as bland as a stale unsalted Saltine.  I knew I was in trouble by the fifth sentence, which is usually the kiss of literary death:

Holding his breath, he slid out of his old, creaking bed and put his bare feet on the floor as lightly as the rising sun kissed the mouth of Restharven Harbor.

I don’t know about you, but I like my analogy to reference something that I’m familiar with, giving me a more clear picture of the idea the author is attempting to paint.  Comparing the stealth with which a character leaves his bed with the mouth of a fictional body of water that hasn’t been described yet not only doesn’t improve my understanding, it actually makes it less clear.  This is one example of the vast quantity of paper-thin attempts at quality writing in The Innocent Mage.

After about 50 pages or so of non-plot advancing description, dry dialog, and a general feeling that you want to go hang yourself, we’re presented with this gem:

I am Jervale’s Heir and I know. Asher is the Innocent Mage. The Final Days are coming. And I am the last living of Jervale’s descendants, born to guide our ignorant fisherman to victory…or fail, and doom our world to death and despair.

What’s that?  You just threw up?  That’s funny, I regurgitated a bit in my mouth the first time I read this too.  Not only is it the same old story of good versus evil with the actions of the main character effecting the entire world, it is simply unreadable!  This is dialog at its worst.  People just don’t talk like this, it doesn’t feel natural, and it leads to rereading sections of a book that probably aren’t worth reading the first time.

Warning: spoilers to follow.  Then again, it probably doesn’t matter since after this review you likely won’t be rushing out to pick up The Innocent Mage any time soon.

Just as Miller feels like she’s going to take the opportunity to advance the plot, or do something exciting with the characters, you find yourself slogging through an entire chapter of the characters crying over miniscule issues from previous chapters.  There’s a beheading scene that makes the main character Asher queasy, and he whines about it for chapter upon chapter to follow.  I compared this with the beheading from A Game of Thrones, seen randomly from the distance by the eyes of the daughter of the man being beheaded.  Quick, meaningful, powerful, and classic.  None of these qualities exist in Miller’s The Innocent Mage.

The rest of this 600+ page novel continues in the same dull fashion, with one of the high points coming when the all-powerful evil being takes over the body of the king’s mage.  Unfortunately, this also is handled terribly.  The narration switches to the viewpoint of the omniscient evil being.  I don’t know about you, but my familiarity with the point of view of an omniscient being is pretty scarce.  The way to play this would have been to have the evil being take over the mage, but view the oddities and transformation from the outside, rather than trying to give the reader an insight into the mind of an omniscient character, and failing miserably.

The novel concludes without resolving anything, and the author throws most of her main characters off a cliff.  I’d recommend that if you come across a copy of The Innocent Mage, you do the same.

Its safe to say I’ll be avoiding anything by Karen Miller for the foreseeable future.  I’m giving it two stars: one for the decent jousting scene about halfway through, and one for any aspiring author who wants to pick up a novel chock full of examples of what not to do.

Take your chances with The Innocent Mage over at

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 2 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Karen Miller, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Review: The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

  1. Pingback: Inside the Blogosphere: Worst Endings in SF/F/H – Grasping for the Wind

  2. I’m very surprised by this review. To each their own, of course, but what I really liked about ‘The Innocent Mage’ was the way the author didn’t hold my hand to describe every single thing (eg. the harbour–I know what a harbour looks like. Too many fantasy books are bloated with this stuff,) and instead concentrated on what was important. The evil being who took over the mage was also very clearly not omniscient. I’m not sure why you say this, except to make it seem less interesting (it also sounds like you’re angry at the book.) The beheading you talked about was a major event in three main characters lives, so of course it was examined. By comparison The Game of Thrones spent so much time on details that didn’t really matter I couldn’t get through it.

    So as I said, to each their own! But a 1/10 for nearly everything? That doesn’t seem like a very balanced review if you were even able to finish the thing.

  3. adam

    this book is so much better than the review suggests it has a good plot and overall a good book

  4. Casey Dixon

    Yea this is just someone who doesn’t like this style of writing. He isn’t giving a review of the book, he’s giving a review of the way the book was written. Different pictures, songs, movies, television shows, all attract different audiences. The same is true about this book and it’s author. I think it is AMAZING! I mean hell, the author makes the protagonist HUMAN! He even talks about him and the prince both fart. The storyline advances extremely well and the overall story is great. The writing is a little off in a few places, I give him that. But the book itself, over all, is a wonderful work of fiction. (Plus if the writing style was bad as this suggest, how the hell would she have 3 series plus some other books?)

  5. Lynn Greene

    I thoroughly disagree with this review. I first read ‘A Blight of Mages’, next the book that is the subject of this review, ‘The Innocent Mage, and am now reading ‘The Awakened Mage’. I have the next two books that comprise ‘The Fisherman’s Children’ waiting on my bedside table. I am utterly fascinated with the series of books and have hardly been able to put the books down. Fantasy is a favorite genre of mine and this has become one of my favorites, right up there with ‘The Sevenwaters Trilogy and ‘The Mists of Avalon’.

  6. I can tip my hat to those who are genuinely satisfied by this novel, but personally I can’t stomach a novel this lacking when compared with some of the other fantasy novels I’ve read (take a cruise through the right column, there are plenty of reviews of great books there).

    Casey – unfortunately simply having a lot of novels in print doesn’t make a quality writer – it could mean something as simple as the author has good connections in the industry or friends in a publishing house. I really don’t know the answer, but the logic doesn’t hold up.

  7. rachel

    you are false. this book was amazing

  8. dave

    I just read it, and it’s one of the worst novels I’ve ever inflicted on myself. I have to agree with the reviewer, except he missed a few execrable features.

  9. I didn’t like the book either. Too many clichés of the genre and badly handled. I wasn’t as put off by the author’s style but gosh was I bored! I couldn’t finish it which very rarely happens to me. And reading what’s finally happening near the end won’t change my mind! I agree with you, the author gives very little to understand how that world works. You feel like guessing most of the time. Some people seem to enjoy that lack of description but it feels like it was written in a hurry to me.
    Yes, the review is harsh but it merely reflects a point of view and personally I find it not completely undeserved…

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