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Literature / Mage Errant

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A fantasy series by author John Bierce.

Set in the magic school of Skyhold, the story starts from the perspective of Hugh of Emblin. Despite his ineptitude at magic, he has been chosen as one of three apprentices of an eccentric mage. In fact, all three apprentices have been deemed inept or impossible to train.

The story unfolds as Hugh and his classmates are taken on as apprentices by Alustin, Librarian Errant. They start discovering and training their unusual talents as apprentice Librarian Errants, and are soon caught up in world events far beyond their control.

There are five books in the series so far:

  • Into the Labyrinth (2018)
  • Jewel of the Endless Erg (2019)
  • A Traitor in Skyhold (2019)
  • The Lost City of Ithos (2020)
  • The Siege of Skyhold (2021)
  • Tongue Eater (2022)

The author regularly posts short stories in this universe on his Patreon.


This series provides examples of:

  • Anti-Magic: Bakori is a walking example of this. As an escapee from a dying universe, spellforms decay just from his very presence and he can actively use this ability to cancel spells around him.
  • Anti-Mentor: What the majority of Skyhold are for our three "failures", they only know how to teach the same magic that everyone learns and due to their special circumstances these do not work for Hugh, Talia, or Sabae. It's not until Alustin comes along that they're able to make any head-way with their abilities.
  • Artificial Intelligence: What the Great Codex in Skyhold's library appears to be a Magitek version of.
    • Subverted because the Great Codex is actually just a function of Kanderon's will, but it does have some simple functions when she's not paying attention to it. Like finding what books people want.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: An aversion. All three apprentices end up learning techniques that the majority of the mage population consider impractical because of their special conditions.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Great Library of Skyhold is much bigger than the mountain that holds it. It's also quite dangerous, with death tolls in the hundreds every decade.
    • Alustin is never seen without his trusty Bag of Holding, which can hold much, MUCH more than one would expect from its size. Except not really. The bag is just an ordinary bag. Alustin tells people the "bag of holding" story to throw people off of his real secret, an extra-planar space only he can access with a spellform tattooed onto his arm. The gang eventually also receive their own bag-of-holding tattooes.
  • The Big Guy: Artur Wallbreaker is stated to be this. In a world where mages mainly fight at range, his unique combination of iron and stone attunements allows him to take and dish damage with an enchanted warhammer. His son Godrick becomes this to the group once he joins.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Hugh was gifted with Sabae's grandmother's storm ward notes in book one. This gets fired in book two when Hugh uses it to ward a sandship, and then an entire CITY from storm damage. It becomes more significant in book three when it was revealed that Hugh is now being referred to as THE Stormward, an appellation that is usually given to a member of the Kaen Das family.
  • The Chessmaster: Kanderon became the last remaining founder of Skyhold because of this. She even engineered Bakori's breakout from the labyrinth partly to kill as many of her opposition as possible.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Using "siege magic" is basically this. It's easy to train and very powerful too, but any mage that does this becomes utterly unable to use their magic in literally any other way other than "dump all their mana into one incredibly powerful spell".
  • Dimensional Traveler: Several legendary characters like Galvacren and The Wanderer as well as The Radhan.
  • Dug Too Deep: What Kanderon did by accident when she flung the city of Imperial Ithos into its own Pocket Dimension, which managed to attract the attention of The Cold Minds.
  • Elemental Powers: Subverted. While there are fire, stone, water and air mages, you can also have an affinity to coins, dreams, hair, cheeese, Gallium or that one tree behind your parents' house, or pretty much anything your culture as a concept for. Also there are at least six kinds of ice affinities and three kinds of fire affinities.
  • The Empire: The Harvath Dominion and even more so the fallen Ithonian Empire.
  • Functional Magic: Magic is integrated into everything in the world. Even Skyhold's cleaning staff use magic for cleaning.
  • Glass Cannon: In Talia's words, "armor's for people who don't have enough firepower".
    • Ironically enough, she and the rest of the gang end up developing their own unique battle armors. Godrick's armor is the most conventional, being made of stone, just like his father (though he upgrades by creating an "armor elemental" to serve as a sort of "living armor" to aid him in battle). Sabae's armor is classic wind-style Elemental Armor, coating her body in what is basically a skin-tight hurricane. Hugh's armor isn't so much armor as it is a swarm of levitating crystals under his direct control that allow him to set up instant Deployable Cover in any configuration he desires. And finally, Talia's tattoos interfere with most spells, including armor spells, so under the supervision of Hugh, Loarna, and most of the healing mages in Skyhold, Kanderon literally inscribes armor spellforms directly onto Talia's skeleton. Running mana through them literally gives her a full-body Deflector Shield.
  • Geometric Magic: The basis for most magic in the setting. Students have to visualize and channel mana through spellforms, which are geometric designs that shape what the magic does. While it is possible to improvise spellforms, the vast majority learn them by rote memorization.
  • Giant Flyer: All over the place in the world. A few standout's are Kanderon Crux, Indris, and The Sleeper Under the Sands. Who are a 75ft Sphinx, a 200ft Dragon, and a city sized Sunmaw.
  • Godzilla Threshold: A Great Power engaging in combat.
  • Healing Factor: Bakori can regenerate as long as he has imps to drain life from. Even Talia vaporizing most of his body was only a minor inconvenience.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: It doesn't matter that our four main characters are mages, they're still teenagers with sex drives. Even Hugh.
    • All young mages in Skyhold are taught a cantrip that functions as Fantasy Contraception. Talia cannot cast it thanks to her Power Tattoos, so her partner has to do it for them.
  • Inept Mage: All three of the main apprentices start out as this.
    • Hugh literally explodes almost every traditional spellform he tries to cast. Interestingly, this is because he was born and raised in one of the harshest mana deserts on the planet. Hugh's body adapted to this much like a cactus holds water, developing a MASSIVE store of mana. Spellforms explode because he can't help but flood them with way too much power.
    • Sabae comes from a long line of storm mages (who control wind, water, and lightning). However, she also inherited her father's Healing affinity, which is excellent for up-close work, but bleeds into her other affinities. Any time she tries to send her storm magics out more than a few feet, it blows up.
    • Talia has special tattoos that would make her the world's strongest fire mage, at the cost of blocking all other affinities. Considering her mother, father, grandparents, and six brothers all had fire affinities, her family considered this an acceptable risk. Unfortunately, Talia did NOT get a fire affinity, instead getting two rare, oddball affinities, dream and bone. Needless to say, neither affinity works properly until she learns to frame them both in terms of fire-power.
  • Internal Reformist: Down Played, but this is how Alustin acts towards traditional methods of teaching at Skyhold.
  • Mana: All magic is done through absorbing mana from the surrounding area, and channeling it through a caster's body to "attune" it to the caster's element/s. A person usually casts from his reservoir of mana and it refills slowly over time. Certain areas (such as Skyhold) have an enormous amount of mana that can be absorbed. Other areas are virtual mana "deserts".
  • Noodle Incident: Alustin is practically full of these.
    • The gorgon incident was never really explained. It was apparently so noteworthy that Indris Stormbreaker, dragon ruler of Theras Tel, considers it impressive.
    • He has a story about carrying a hatching hydra egg, but just described it as "unpleasant".
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: A variant. While Alustin is definitely not stupid, he amplifies his eccentricities to make himself unpredictable. Also, it amuses him as to how much people underestimate him just because he tends to ramble on about obscure terracing magics for farming.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Coven Kanderon, Indris and Iliana when their transmissions are intercepted by Hugh.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Lichdom is a way to escape mortality, but in Mage Errant's elemental magic system, mages imbue some piece of fitting terrain with their soul becoming stationary.
  • Paper Master: A large number of Skyhold's librarians are paper mages. They are usually deemed to be of not much use on the battlefield. Alustin, who is an exceptionally powerful one, would beg to differ.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Most of the Great Powers qualify.
  • Pocket Dimension: All over the place but especially evident with the Bag of Holding that Kanderon created for Alustin.
    • Post Jewel of the Endless Erg Hugh's Crystal Book becomes this for basically all of the normal books it eats.
  • Tornado Move: Sabae's techniques rely on her generating cyclonic winds around her body to form armor and blast attacks from. It is interesting that similar techniques are used to shield against sandstorms, only magnified and on a personal scale.
  • Training from Hell: Hugh's master seems to believe in this. For example, Kanderon Crux pelts him with crystals for multiple sessions to teach Hugh to sense crystals. It should be noted that Kanderon never told him how he should do it.
  • The Trickster: The legendary Wanderer who gave away a kingdom for a treasure map.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Kanderon considers humanity this. It may be that she is working to the benefit of humanity, but any individual human life isn't that significant.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…
    • Talia is descended from a line of powerful fire mages. Her solution to combat is always "set it on fire".
    Talia: Why pick a lock when you can just burn down the whole building?.
    • Artur Wallbreaker and his son Godrick have literal enchanted hammers for fighting.