Book Review: Rise of a Merchant Prince by Raymond E. Feist

18858089Title: Rise of a Merchant Prince
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1995
Rating: 4 stars

Roo Avery, recently returned from a harrowing brush with the armies of the Emerald Queen, is now free to choose his own destiny and his ultimate ambition is to become one of the richest and most powerful merchants in Midkemia.

But nothing can prepare him for the dangers of the new life he has chosen where the demand for repayment of a debt can be as deadly as a knife in the shadows. Even those closest to him are suspect and as Roo struggles to build his financial empire, betrayel is forever close at hand. His instinctive cunning will serve him well, but he will soon realise that the road to success is far from smooth.

And while Roo works towards achieving his goal, the memory of the distant forces of darkness are never far away. For the war with the Emerald Queen is far from over and the inevitable confrontation will pose the biggest threat yet to his new found wealth and power.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers for Shadow of a Dark Queen!

Rise of a Merchant Prince, in all honesty, is somewhat of an “awkward” novel, compared to the other works written by Feist, and in the fantasy genre in general, but as an outcast-book there are actually two ways you can look at it: either you think it is the best thing that ever happened to the genre in terms of leading character and plot development, or you wish you had never even picked it up to begin with. Although the story of Rupert Avery’s rise from a commoner to one of the richest men in the Kingdom hasn’t entirely convinced me, I wouldn’t call it a complete failure either. From what I’ve read people are either entirely in love with this book, or they hate it with a passion. I guess I’m somewhere inbetween, as I do see some remarkable strengths in this book, along with some surprisingly obvious weaknesses. Not Feist’s best, but perhaps one of his most original works up to date.

In this novel, Feist shifts the focus from Erik Von Blackmoor to his best friend, Rupert Avery. Roo’s personality is a welcome change from the flawless Erik, who manages to be so amazing it gets annoying after a while. Rupert may not be the prettiest person alive – which actually works in his advantage, as it turns him into a much more believable character readers can actually relate to – but he has more personality and wit in his one hand than Erik has in his entire, utterly gigantic body. Roo starts out as a virtual nobody in the world of business, with one good idea gone completely wrong when he gets robbed from his well-earned money, but on sheer determination and a clever mind alone, he manages to make a fortune in an amazingly short amount of time. Feist really focuses on the more down-to-earth, business side of Midkemia here, a welcome change from all the warfare, epic battles and high-end magic. There is no better character he could have chosen as protagonist of this story than Rupert Avery: a man with flaws, but with a sparky and entertaining personality.

I really had trouble putting down Rise of a Merchant Prince once I really got into it, which is always a good sign. The intrigue, the drama, really showed how tough the world of business is, even in a fantasy middle-age world like Midkemia. It really portrayed the struggles of ordinary people just trying to get by, and Roo had to use all his intelligence and wit not to drown in that overwhelming ocean of intrigue here. Entertaining, sometimes even fascinating, but I can imagine that this book isn’t for everyone out there. If you’re really into the old fantasy clichés with epic quests, magicians and dragons, then Rise of a Merchant Prince really isn’t your deal. If you’re somewhat like me, and you’ve been eager for a fresh wind in the fantasy realm for a while now, then you will find this book to fulfill that wish.

Also, Feist deserves a thumbs up as in this book he finally steps away from his medieval perspective on women: either they’re unreachable statues of virtue and spoiled brattiness (princess Carlina and princess Anita from The Riftwar Series) or they’re hookers, or sort of hookers, and don’t seem to have even a spark of intelligence or a mind of their own. Luckily, in the midst of this series, Feist introduces interesting female characters who put some of the male characters to shame when it comes to intelligence and personality. Sylvia Easterbrook, a beautiful young woman and love interest of Roo, is the most well-developed female character created by Feist up to date. She is cunning, ambitious, determined, and isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to increase her own fortune and wealth. So perhaps she’s not the most likeable person on this planet, but atleast she has personality. Now I can only hope Feist keeps on introducing female characters who are more than little puppets, and then he’ll score even higher on my list.

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