And so we find ourselves at the end of another long-running fantasy series, left with nothing more than the pages we hold in our hands to provide some sense of closure. The final book of any series is always a difficult one to read, and it often seems as if the longer the series, the greater the potential for disappointment. With an open-ended series like this, where each subsequent book has added more characters, more plot threads, and more mythology, the demands upon the author to nicely tie up all those loose ends in one final book often seem to get in the way of the story.
Fortunately, despite a hiccup at the halfway mark that nearly relegated this to the did-not-finish pile (more on that in a moment), Magician's End turned out to be one of the most satisfying concluding volumes in quite some time. Raymond E. Feist has done an admirable job here of returning to his roots, recapturing the magic of those first few books, and providing us with a satisfying end to the saga. It's a book that pays homage to the past, touching on key characters who've long since left the page, without getting distracted by the need to tie off every possible loose end.
At first, I cringed at the dreamlike encounters with dead friends and allies, fearful that Feist was trying to do too much, to satisfy the demands of too many fans. Yes, it was nice to exchange words with the likes of Kulgan, Borric, Macros, and all the rest, but did they really need to come back, even if just for a while? Well, maybe they didn't need to, but Feist certain gives them a purpose, which is all a reader can ask. Their conversations with the likes of Pug, Magnus, Nakor, and Miranda are important, imparting lessons that are needed to see the heroes through to the final confrontation.
On that note, for those readers who've become accustomed to the leaner, harsher, simpler books that seems to rule the series for a while, it must be said that this is a book that's quite philosophical. The nature of reality, the role of the gods, and the balance of good and evil are all themes that Feist explores quite openly and directly, seizing the opportunity to really drive home some of the key themes from the series. It felt like a 'big' book, like a truly 'epic' fantasy, which was precisely what I had been hoping for. He opened my eyes and made me nod my head in more than a few places, especially in the penultimate chapters.
Now, as to that hiccup, there's a point at which Macros makes a key speech about the prophecy under which Pug has suffered since making his noble sacrifice during the first Riftwar:
“Pug believes his life will end soon. A crux is coming, a confluence of probability which none of you may survive,” said Macros. “But the future is now unfixed, and whatever prophecy or foretelling that may have directed his behavior is almost certainly moot. However, he must not know that. He must believe he will sacrifice himself to save . . . everything.”I cringed when I read that, sure that Feist was providing himself with an 'out' to negate the corner into which he'd written himself, negating every sacrifice Pug has suffered, and artificially creating the potential for a happily-ever-after. Fortunately, it's a bit of a red herring, a narrative twist that does precisely what it's intended to do - shake up the reader, make us question the finality of what's the come, and leave us wondering as to whether Magician's End is the literal reference we've all come to expect. Somehow, he manages to adhere to the original prophecy, while also doing something pleasantly unexpected.
As a trilogy, the Chaoswar Saga felt like three very different books, each of them linked together by some entertaining, yet largely inconsequential threads. It didn't really feel like we were building up to the conclusion of a trilogy, but instead scattering chess pieces about so as to enable a final end-game. Had this not been the end of the series, that sense of disconnect would likely have irked me more than it did. Looking back, however, I can appreciate the ways in which Feist did precisely what was necessary to set the stage, define the odds, and set events on their way. More importantly, unlike Sanderson's attempt to bring the Wheel of Time to a close with a trilogy that felt bloated and overlong, Feist's final trilogy feels as if it's exactly the right size and scope to deliver the goods.
Magician's End is a book in which heroes die, sacrifices are made, and the fate of universes is ultimately determined. It's ambitious in scope, especially with this third and final volume, but it never loses touch with the humor, the wit, and the adventure that we've come to love. I do wonder if this is well-and-truly the end of Midkemia, for there are a few threads left deliberately dangling, but it is clearly the end of the core story arc we've followed for so long. It does feel like an end - if not the end - and I can honestly say I came away from the final page content with how it all played out.
Published May 14th 2013 by HarperCollins US
Hardcover, 576 pages