Doyle, Debra, and James D. Macdonald: (01-05) Mageworlds reread

(This entry was 95% drafted nearly a year ago, as will become immediately apparent.)

Hey fandom: I hear you like your space opera with a new generation dealing with the aftermath of a galaxy-spanning war, plus central female characters and a main character with dark skin?

So now would be an awesome time to introduce you to the Mageworlds books by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, which were published in the 1990s and remain available as ebooks. I have never actually asked the authors about this, but I am morally certain that they began as Star Wars fanfic—and now that the Star Wars movies have moved into the next generation, I thought I’d dust these off and see how they held up.

I think they do pretty well, though honestly I imprinted on them hard back when I first read them, so I can’t promise I’m entirely objective. [*] But yeah: space battles, hand-to-hand combat with glowy things, non-human species, and complicated family relationships (no incest or close calls with, though), plus more worldbuilding and moral complexity than I, at least, got out of the Star Wars movies. Oh, and can I interest you in a main character who cross-dresses and supporting characters who are canonically in a same-sex relationship? (Sadly, like the Star Wars movies, apparently we can only have one dark-skinned character at a time, unless they’re that one character’s kids; but I do love Llannat a lot. And Mageworlds does way better than Star Wars on its number and range of female characters, though it still doesn’t manage actual parity. (I counted.))

[*] The only thing I noticed this time around was that there was a fairly stereotypical depiction of sex work–not shaming the worker, not in the least, but viewing sex work as something intrinsically degrading that would only be done out of necessity. It’s a very small part of the series, however.

The first three books are a trilogy: The Price of the Stars is a bit more standalone, but Starpilot’s Grave and By Honor Betray’d are the Second Magewar, which goes in satisfyingly different directions than its presumed inspiration. Then The Gathering Flame jumps back a generation to tell some of the First Magewar; but read it in publication order, because it doesn’t really have a full arc on its own, and some of its revelations won’t land properly if you don’t know the rest of the story (and they are so good if you do). The Long Hunt jumps forward a generation again, and is slighter and part of its plot doesn’t really work, but does wrap up something from By Honor Betray’d, plus it’s nice to see everyone again. (There are also two way-back prequels, The Stars Asunder and A Working of Stars, which I didn’t reread this time around.)

Basically, these are extremely readable fun with solid substance underneath, and if you’re in the mood for “more like Star Wars that isn’t exactly Star Wars,” or just generally fantasies of political agency with lots of competence, you should really pick them up.


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  1. This makes me want to read these. I’m in a Star Warsy kinda mood. I was actually going to reread the Exordium books, but now I will try these.

  2. These are less dense than Exordium but definitely in the same area–I actually think I found Exordium via Doyle & Macdonald’s webpage!

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