Servant Mage – An Awkward Fit

Servant Mage is a nice little novella by Kate Elliott that I read (in ARC form) last year on a plane. I needed something to tide me over for my three-hour flight, and I ended up reading the entire story in a single sitting. When I got to the end, despite feeling engaged the entire time, I found myself thinking that something was missing. The concept was unique, and the messaging was very clear, but in the end, the story felt limited by the medium and a bad fit for a novella.

Fellian is a Lamplighter, a mage with a magical affinity for fire. In a world where people control different forms of elemental magic, the gathering of mages is strictly forbidden due to the potential to create rebel groups that might challenge authority. Fellian is someone who really just wants to be left alone and stay out of political movements, which is why it’s a bummer that a group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines. Thus begins a heist/rescue mission set within a fascinating world with a memorable gang of elemental mages that has extreme promise but ultimately feels greatly underdeveloped.

The real body in the well here is the fact that this book feels like a large standalone novel the size of The Priory of the Orange Tree (giant) with 3/4ths of its pages ripped out. Kate Elliott is a master of worldbuilding and character design. Each of the mages in Fellian’s crew feels unique and mysterious with their own cool thing, but because of the short length of the story, everything ends up feeling massively underdeveloped simply because we don’t have the time to dig into it – not because the information isn’t there. The novella feels underdeveloped, incomplete, and I can’t think of why the novella format was chosen.

The core idea of the novella is definitely interesting, but I can’t actually talk about it because if I tell you, I’d spoil the one thing the short story has going for it: the execution of the theme. In some ways, Servant Mage feels like over-committing to a bit. A punchline that would have been great with less setup is lost because of the huge setup. Alternatively, the ending would have been fabulous if there had been more going on in the story as a whole so that I didn’t feel like I just spent three hours reading the equivalent of “wouldn’t it be interesting if a person did X?”

Servant Mage isn’t bad, but it is nowhere near as good as I have come to expect from Elliott from reading her other work like Unconquerable Sun. Mage has an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but the execution is simply not there.

Rating: Servant Mage – 6.0/10

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I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.

One thought on “Servant Mage – An Awkward Fit

  1. This was my first book by Kate Elliott, so I’m glad to hear Unconquerable Sun is better (it’s been lingering on my TBR). Absolutely great premise, but just could not get into the writing (though ironically, to me it was because the world-building overwhelmed everything in the short space allotted in the novella). Agree that a full length novel might have worked out better!

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