There seem to be a lot of mixed opinions about The Innocent Mage, so this review will address that as much as the book itself. Fantasy books tend to follow a pretty strict set of formulas. Generally, we can group these into sub-categories like High Fantasy or Epic Fantasy. While The Innocent Mage certainly takes place in a High Fantasy setting, it’s not really a High Fantasy book. This is, at its core, a coming-of-age story placed in a more slice-of-life format. Both for central protagonist Asher and his friend Prince Gar. So, let’s break down exactly what makes this book different, starting with the magic.
You can’t have a fantasy book without magic. Well, you can, but it’s very rare. Fantasy fans tend to obsess a bit over magic systems. What is magic and how does it work in this world? What are the rules? While magic can have some semblance of an explanation, the whole point of magic is that it does the impossible. Characters do have to understand it to some degree but going too deep kind of ruins the point. Not to mention the fact that the two main characters cannot do magic, which is a major plot point, so even though they are surrounded by magical people it makes sense that their own experience is limited.
The other big thing is the setting. This country is the last haven in a world otherwise in a post-apocalypse scenario. But it has been this way for centuries, so everyone is really chill about it. Life goes on normally for these people. This helps to make it more of a slice-of-life story. And most fantasy books do not do that. There is typically a sense of adventure or danger in fantasy books that tends to be prominent or at least semi-reoccurring. But The Innocent Mage is more like Harry Potter; life is normal (with a bit of magic) for most of the story until Voldemort pops up towards the end of the book.
This combination is where I think a lot of readers draw issue with The Innocent Mage. It breaks the mold in several ways. Now it is understandable why some readers are upset with this. When you enjoy a genre, you expect certain things from it. You don’t walk into the theater to see an action movie and enjoy it if the film turns out to be a more of a rom-com. I, personally, liked The Innocent Mage. It was refreshing to see something simple and low stakes, at least for Part 1 of this story. These stories do not always have to be about big epic magic, they can just be about life with the magic in the background. Things will probably pick up more traditionally in book 2 given the cliffhanger at the end of book 1, but I still found The Innocent Mage to be calm and enjoyable.