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Old Screeds

Review 5 [27 May 05] The Magehound, by Elaine Cunningham.

The only published novel I have ever found with major wemic content is The Magehound, by Elaine Cunningham. (Steven Brust has a few lion-centaurs in his Vlad Taltos books, mentioned in passing a couple times and once so far with speaking parts. I'll get to those another day.) For those with itchy mouse fingers, here is Elaine Cunningham's Magehound Page as well as an excerpt from the prelude (so it has no spoilers). Also, here is a review of the book at

Let me start with my own capsule review, offering no spoilers, for those who want to buy and read it.

The Magehound is a coming of age story about a jordain, a magic-resistant counselor in a mageocratic nation of Halruaa, in the Forgotten Realms. The protagonist, Matteo, is a jordain who is completing his training and beginning his career as an advisor. He meets mages and lords, as well as a ragamuffin girl, named Tzigone, who challenges his preconceptions about his society. One of the lordly people he encounters is Kiva, the Magehound of the title, who poses several challenges. The magehound's faithful friend is Mbatu, a wemic.

The book is engaging, despite a couple false starts, and holds up on a repeated reading. The culture is interesting, the major characters are well drawn, and the hero makes real choices that determine his fate. The battle scenes are exciting, especially those with the wemic. My rating: Three paws and a pounce.

Well, the rest of this review has spoilers, so now's your chance to turn away.

No, really, I'm about to totally ruin the book for you, which would be a shame, so get going!

Okay, like I said, I liked this book -- especially the story of Matteo and Tzigone. But a few things really irked me, and I have to get them off my chest.

Oh, those false starts I talked about! First, you have a wizard leading a party into a swamp. But soon every one of them dies. Turns out they were being scried by the magehound and her wemic. Oh! That's who the book is about. But no. Then we see two wizard-rulers of Halruaa in a duel. At last, the heroes of the book. Nope, minor characters at best. Finally we get to Matteo in Chapter Two, but how annoying!

Not only that, but the first time we see Kiva and Mbatu, there is no telling that she is actually (last chance to avoid a spoiler!) one of the major villains of the book! So when it became clear that the wemic is actually just a henchman of the bad guy, I was crushed! The wemic is a foil for the heroes to beat on! Gosh darn it!

But Mbatu still has many redeeming qualities, and is a fun read. Too bad he dies in the end, trying to save Kiva from a monster.

Finally, in the big secret of the book, the queen turns out to be Tzigone's mother. But the author has to go through annoying verbal gymnastics to avoid giving this away, essentially misleading the reader. Annoying.

I'm not a reader of Forgotten Realms books or other D&D novels. So I am not sure how they work in general. But it was interesting to seee how combat, for example, was not Dungeons and Dragons combat. There more to say about that in a future screed, but for now let me note that WotC has created rules for playing a jordain.

Review: Anyway, don't let my kvetching mislead you. These annoyances brought the book down from four paws to three, but three is still pretty darn good. Another point in its favor is that it stands alone well, despite being the first of a series. So my rating: three paws with a pounce. Worth a read!

Explanation of ratings:

  • One Paw: Broken, badly flawed, may damage your game. Discard.
  • Two Paws: Flawed but not dangerous. May have a good idea or two. Not worth buying or downloading.
  • Three Paws: Excellent ideas despite slight flaws. Good value.
  • Four Paws: Essential and recommended. Seek this out.
  • With a Lick: Slight or inconsequential feline/wemic content.
  • With a Pounce: Significant feline/wemic content.

Feedback [10 June 05] From Jason:

Hi Cayzle,

Sometimes I wish your screeds were a full-out blog, so I could inline comments, because I had the following to say:

"Oh, those false starts I talked about!" Yes - while the initial chapters were entertaining to read, when Chapter Two began I couldn't help thinking, Oh that's RIGHT, this is the story of MATTEO, isn't it. (Matteo, who momentarily becomes Mattis somewhere in the last few pages. Ouch. And Keturah, who blinks to Tekurah and back. )

"So when it became clear that the wemic is actually just a henchman of the bad guy, I was crushed!"

I hear you there! Even more so, when I reached the end of the book, I wondered, why a wemic? Cunningham reaches into a hat full of little slips of paper, pulls one out, unfolds it; it reads "wemic". The hat is labeled "Kiva's henchcreature" and the slips of paper name likely intelligent humanoid races such as "lizardman" or "dragonkin" or, oh, let's say, "wemic". Yes, it was lucky coincidence for us that Cunningham chose a wemic, but it was no more than that. There was no significance to it. Of course, as a wemic admirer, I might be reading a bit much into this, but - in accordance to your rating system - I would downgrade the rating from a pounce to a lick. Inconsequential, indeed.

And yes, it sucks that Mbatu's dramatic role was that of a punching bag for the heroes.

I totally agree that it was a good read, if a bit awkward in places, and if I'd picked it up with a different set of expectations, I probably would have liked it a lot more. As it is, my final reaction to the publishing world is, SHOW US THE WEMIC!

Saaaay. I should give that a shot myself.

Cayzle adds: Yup, I guess that I am liberal with my "lick" and "pounce" ratings, but the thing is, if I were not, there would be no pounces and very few licks! And by the way, you should definitely take a shot -- if by that you mean write a wemic story for publication!

Update [20 Dec 07] Here's a new Review of the book.

Home | This page last modified: 20 December 07