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 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, betrayal is always 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 is 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.
Rise of a Merchant Prince was one of the books I was most looking forward to rereading for my Midkemia Reread as I adore Roo. And while it was still an entertaining read, my enjoyment of the book was somewhat affected by changes in how I look at the world. Or rather, some of Roo’s actions bothered me far more than they’ve ever done. Still, I really enjoyed the economic aspects of this novel and any scene Erik was in and, in the end, Rise of the Merchant Prince remains quite entertaining.
If Shadow of a Dark Queen was Erik’s story, Rise of a Merchant Prince is Roo’s story. Roo is one of my favourite Feistian characters and he is a rogue of the type somewhat reminiscent of Eddings’ Silk. He is the bad boy with the heart of gold, not dashingly handsome, but gifted with a silver tongue, a quick wit, and oodles of charm. I loved Roo’s stint at Barrett’s and his work with The Bitter Sea Trading Company. This was the book that showed me trading and economics could actually be interesting in a narrative. I also liked the early parts of his relationship with Karli, Helmut Grindle’s daughter. There seemed to be a true connection forming between them, especially when Karli displayed her knowledge of the trade and her intelligence, but this is completely shut down once they marry and especially once Roo is seduced by Sylvia. And it drove me nuts. Not just that Roo would be that faithless and disrespectful of Karli, but that Karli acquiesces to this treatment like she does. Roo’s treatment of his family on the whole made me feel a little less charitable towards him. I really disliked that his weak spot had to be women, that they were the only thing that could get him off his trading game.
In addition to Karli, there are two more important female characters in this book. Miranda once again returns and joins Calis on the journey to Novindus. She’s still played as the mysterious magical factor and worse, in this book the meat of her storyline seems to be the fact that she’s in a love triangle with Pug and Calis. I mean why? Miranda is a powerful player in her own right. She’s the one who knows the Hall of the Worlds well, she seems to have a good inkling to what needs to be done and in this book she’s only along as the love interest and a convenient emergency exit for Calis. Then there is Sylvia and Sylvia just bothers me on many levels. She’s a gorgeous woman, used as eye candy by her father, who also uses her womanly wiles (read sex) to further her father’s business interests. In addition, she has a healthy libido and seems to enjoy bed sports with various partners. And it seems to me – though that might be a faulty interpretation on my side – that she’s judged to be an immoral and bad woman over this not just by her father, but by herself as well. And of course if the rest of Krondorian society knew about this, she would be a social pariah. Something that strikes me as deeply tragic and unfair, since Sylvia seems to be very much a creature of her father’s making. I hated that Roo let himself be led by his nether regions, instead of his brains and that he falls for the trap the Esterbrooks set for him. I very much didn’t like Sylvia, yet it bothered me that much of what makes her unlikeable is tied into the fact that she isn’t the virtuous merchant’s daughter she’s expected to be. Still I hope both she and, more importantly, her father get their comeuppance in the next book.
While Rise of a Merchant Prince is largely Roo’s story, there is a parallel arc in which Erik accompanies Calis and another hand-picked group of soldiers back down to Novindus on a mission to strike at the heart of the Panthatians’ society. We only see glimpses of what happens – the most important moments – but the import and tension of this mission is tangible throughout the latter half of the book. It also made me realise that my opinion of Erik has significantly changed from where it was say a decade ago. I always thought Erik a bit too good to be true. He was not quite a ‘Chosen One’, but solid, dependable, Good and with ‘a Future’; in other words, he was slightly vanilla. Now, however, I find myself drawn to Erik far more. He’s still a bit too good to be true, but there is more to him than just vanilla and I’m wondering whether this development in my appreciation of Erik’s character will continue in the next books or whether it might also be due to my slight disenchantment with Roo.
Overall, even if Rise of a Merchant Prince wasn’t visited by the Suck Fairy, it didn’t quite live up to my memories of it. But even despite that it is a very entertaining novel and will remain one of my favourite Midkemia books. It also marks the one-third point of my Midkemia Reread, as this is the tenth of thirty titles set in Midkemia. And I’m starting to see some trends emerge. I don’t know whether the books haven’t stood the test of time well or whether it is that I have changed significantly since the last time I’ve read them through, but I’m finding far more problematical things this time around than ever before, even if the books are still very entertaining and compelling. Of course, Rise of a Merchant Prince was first published in 1995, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this feeling will persist once we get closer to the last third of the series and his more recent books.
This review is part of my Midkemia Reread, in which I read all the books Raymond E. Feist wrote, set in the world of Midkemia. For more on the why and how of this series of reviews, check out Midkemia Reread: An Introduction.