I was introduced to Karen Miller about 6 months ago when I found the Innocent Mage books, chronicling the young life of a fisherman-turned-Prince's Executive Assistant-turned-mage named Asher. Great story, great characters, great everything. Highly recommended.
The Prodigal Mage takes place ten and twenty years later, after Asher and Dathne have children. As you might have guessed from the title, much of the story revolves around one of Asher's children; his son. Miller did a great job of created a legitimate family dynamic, with parents who disagree, children who squabble, and two sides to every argument, each of which is a legitimate point. Odd for me, I think that my favorite part of this book was that family dynamic, and the character development between them. Not to say that the story wasn't good. It was overall, though I must confess that I was slightly disappointed after having such high expectations set by the first series of books.
Miller has done a thorough job of creating her own world, with well-defined rules and a history that makes total sense, one of the major challenges when it comes to fantasy. She also did something that the Dragonlance books (I feel) failed to do well; transfer both hero and villain down to another generation. I think part of that is because the hero and the villain in this story (at least one pair) grew up together, and you got to see that interaction. In detail. The conflict between Rafel and Arlin was extremely well developed, and (SPOILER ALERT) made the tension of their ultimate partnership that much more enjoyable.
An odd move for Miller, especially for a fantasy novel, was not personifying the enemy that Asher had to fight. Throughout the book, he is fighting three things; his fear, the world at large, and the ignorance of the people around him. His is a very real battle, with challenges that we all face every day, trying to protect our families and ourselves from things that we can't understand the way we could understand Morg (or Conroyd) in the first book. For Asher, there are no villains of that magnitude. That lack of personified antagonist was a bit refreshing, and made the story even more real. Uncertain danger is more frightening than a person.
I found myself tinged with a bit of disappointment after finishing this book, because there were several things that really fratched me about it (read the book to find out just how versatile that word can be). However, after sitting here, writing this review, I realized that I am looking forward to the next book in the series coming out, and that I actually had great things to say about it. The events of the story may be fantastic (in the most literal sense of the word), but based on the character development, they also make perfect sense. It may be irritating to not know who the true main character of the story is, but in following both Asher and Rafel so closely, you get to see their interaction better, and learn what they truly mean to one another. It also shows real life, as children come into their own and become the lead players in their own lives, rather than extras in their parents' lives. And sure, (SPOILER ALERT), Morg's reappearance at the end didn't quite make sense based on the end of the last book, and somehow still managed to be predictable, but I'm sure that will be explained nicely in the next book.
One item that I am still disappointed about is the lack of time given to Deenie, Rafel's younger sister, and their relationship. I feel that was a missed opportunity, but to Miller's credit, the book was just shy of hefty.
All in all, highly recommended, though definitely read the Innocent Mage books first. I think you need that level of background for the story.