Review: SERVANT MAGE by Kate Elliott

Publisher: Tor.com
Page Count: 176
Release Date: January 18th, 2022
Series: Standalone
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars – Didn’t Like It

Servant Mage

When the Liberationists overthrew the monarchy, all mages were rounded up and conscripted into indentured service to the state. Fellian is one such mage, torn from her family five years ago, forced to work as a servant at an inn, cleaning latrines and using her fire gift to light the lamps every night. But one night, Fellian is whisked away by a group of rebel Monarchists who desperately need her fire gift to rescue allies. But all that gets put aside when a catastrophic event reveals that a child of royal blood has been born. It will take a mage from all five domains to rescue the child, and Fellian is the only one they’ve got.

SERVANT MAGE is a novella with a fascinating set-up that is hampered by its execution. The author has a great premise: a mage trapped between two warring factions who simply wants to return to the home she was stolen from years ago. Along the way, she begins to understand both her own powers, and the political powers shaping the world. Fellian is meant to be our POV character; after being conscripted as a young teen, she was kept isolated and uneducated about how magic works so that she would be easier to control, so she’s learning a lot as she experiences freedom for the first time in years.

But the result is a lot of info-dumping that feels rushed and a bit stilted. Some of this can be forgiven at the book’s start as the necessary evil of needing to quickly immerse readers into this world. But exposition of all sorts continues well into the books final act, with Fellian constantly asking questions that her companions point out are rude and awkward, even as they answer the question.

To give credit where it’s due, the book does an excellent job of making the point that both sides of this conflict are the same side of an oppressive coin, a realization that slowly becomes more and more clear until one final impactful moment at the end of the book. Both sides want to create a privileged ruling class, they just differ on who should be allowed in those upper ranks. This lack of a “good” side does make the story a bit bleak overall, which can be a bit jarring if you came to this tale for a rousing adventure where Fellian is rescued by rebels looking to create a better future. The story does end on a hopeful note, but it is much more of a grey tale than you might initially expect.

There’s enough in SERVANT MAGE that I held out hope for a long while that I was going to like it more than I ended up doing. Unfortunately, I had trouble connecting with the characters, particularly lead character Fellian. This feels like a book that would have benefited from being a novel length, with time to explore all these concepts more naturally. As it currently stands, SERVANT MAGE is a premise that fell just short of winning my heart.

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

4 thoughts on “Review: SERVANT MAGE by Kate Elliott

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    1. Yeah, I just felt like a lot of the dialogue was “surely you know about the five schools of magic and what they do, here let me tell you” and it just wasn’t working for me. I REALLY wanted to like this one too!

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