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The Magicians' Daughter: Book Three of the Stoneways Trilogy by S. C. Butler
Edited by Patric Lobrutto
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765314796
Date: 27 April 2009 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The Magicians' Daughter is book three of the Stoneways Trilogy. The previous two books were very good traditional fantasy novels which showed that a talented author could make something new out of the classic fantasy tropes. The third novel is even better, moving further away from the traditional clash of obvious good and evil as well as doing interesting (and upsetting) things to the characters.

The Magicians' Daughter opens where the last book in the trilogy, Queen Ferris, left off. Reiffen and Ferris are happily married, and Reiffen has promised to teach her the magic he learned from the wizards. But evil wizard Fornoch has survived and Reiffen has been having nightmares in which Fornoch threatens his not-yet-born daughter. Even as hero Avendar, Reiffen's childhood companion, becomes a favorite of the ladies, the woman he secretly loves marries the king.

The second chapter jumps ten years, Reiffen, now officially a Magician, has several current and former apprentices, and has taught magic to his wife and, a little, to his young daughter Hubley who celebrates her tenth birthday early in the book. Gradually, Reiffen becomes more and more protective of his daughter and worried about Fornoch, moving from a vague unease to becoming obsessed and paranoid. When he discovers that the Wizard has subverted one of the magicians Reiffen has trained, with promises of teaching forbidden magic, Reiffen snaps, kills the former apprentice and resolves to kill all his current apprentices before they can be tempted away too. When Ferris tries to talk him out of this, Reiffen kidnaps their daughter. Then, when Avendar tries to rescue the girl, Reiffen gives him a Living Stone that makes people immortal and buries him alive.

The second section opens with Hubley celebrating her tenth birthday again. This time, instead of the elaborate party earlier in the novel, only her father and his bard attend. She has no memory of the first time this happened. Once again she is kidnapped, this time by a person claiming to be Avendar; but Hubley insists is older than the real Avendar. At this point, most SF readers will think that the author has thrown time travel into the usual fantasy mix and they would be right and completely wrong at the same time. There are more chases through the Stoneways created by the dwarfs (in an ironic inversion from the attempt to rescue Reiffen in the first book, this chase is rescuing a person from Reiffen). Hubley and Avendar are helped by an older female magician named Mims, while both Reiffen and Ferris think that it is Fornoch who has taken Hubley. Gradually, the reader discovers what has really happened to Hubley, the extent of Reiffen's madness, and the surprising importance of a seemingly minor character from book two.

Normally child protagonists are difficult to write convincingly, but Hubley is a wonderful character, whose innocence and joy when using her magic makes a nice contrast to her increasingly dark father. Still, this is not a book for children as magic in this world is quite violent – for instance, the traveling spell requires chopping off a finger to replace it with a thimble. Avendar's character is nicely developed too, the circumstances leading to his infidelity are quite believable (although it is not clear if his decision to rescue Hubley using his own thimble was his own decision or the result of being controlled or influenced by another). With respect to Reiffen, the book would have better if it could have spent a little more time in his head, to show his motivations beyond simply showing that he has gone mad.

Unlike most third books in a trilogy, The Magicians' Daughter can be understood by readers new to the series (although they would miss out on two very good books). It is better than its predecessors, as it moves beyond traditional fantasy clichés (at least until the climax, which seems dangerously close to one of the items on the Evil Overlord list). In this world, magic, at least knowing the more extreme aspects of magic that Reiffen learned from the Wizards, has a cost and not everything lends itself to happily ever after. And the writer is honest with the reader and everything is explained convincingly.

This trilogy is the first published fiction by S.C. Butler but reads like the work of an experienced writer. Readers who like classic fantasy, the works of Robert Jordan or early David Eddings will find much to enjoy in this trilogy.

Highly recommended.

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