The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When fisherman Asher escapes to the big city to make his fortune, the brash young man little suspects that he is destined to be the center of earth-shattering events that may destroy his homeland.
Asher leaves home hoping to make a better life for himself, and on his first day in the city he seems to have succeeded with startling dumb luck: he is soon employed by Prince Gar, son of the Doranen king of Lur. Asher isn't one you'd peg as a champion; he's outspoken, rough-mannered, and highly opinionated. He's also completely unaware of the plans others have for him from the moment he sets foot in the capitol city.
Prince Gar lacks the magical gift of the Doranen race and is regarded as a cripple by his people. His powerful younger sister, Princess Fayne, is the next heir to the throne because she has the ability to work the weather magic the kingdom relies upon. The weather magic has kept Lur safe from external threats for centuries, feeding a huge wall that blocks off the former Doranen homeland. Shunted aside, Gar is placed in charge of the concerns of the Olken people, magic-less natives of Lur who have been ruled by Doranen for centuries.
Gar and Asher soon become friends in spite of differences of background and temperament. But there is a cloud on the horizon that neither is aware of: a prophecy of end times is coming true, and both Gar and Asher are destined to play a part.
A group of Olken conspirators, scheming to to preserve their unique, hidden brand of magic and prepare for the coming of the prophesied 'Innocent Mage' (who is apparently Asher), merely lurks, seemingly without a real plan. Only their goal is clear: help the Innocent Mage, and manipulate him if necessary, to save Lur.
The Innocent Mage feels like a long ramping-up to the real story. Since neither of the two main characters are magic-users (there is a powerful - though seemingly nonsensical - taboo against Olken use of Doranen magic, backed by the death penalty), the magic of the Wall and the shadowy threat beyond remain well in the background. We instead get a slow introduction to the various characters as they get to know each other and bicker.
Anyone expecting a Game of Thrones-like intensity and complexity won't find it here, though I think Asher is an amusing and compelling character - even if the supporting cast and setting don't quite measure up in terms of inventiveness. Fortunately for completists who don't have time to wait for yet another fantasy series to finish (looking at you, George R. R. Martin), this is part of a completed duology and concludes with The Awakened Mage. (There is also a prequel that tells the story of Barl and Morgan: A Blight of Mages.)
For other epic fantasy stories, try Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind or Brandon Sanderson's excellent Mistborn series.