Serpent Mage is a 1992 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the fourth in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo and Alfred travel separately to the ocean world of Chelestra, where they discover the last bastion of the Sartan as well as a mysterious race of powerful creatures.
Weis and Hickman are thus far doing a very fine job of making their world(s) increasingly complex. Serpent Mage begins to explore the series’ theological theme in greater depth, for one thing, and in the course of their storytelling, the authors also paint a clearer picture of some of the lingering mysteries from prior volumes.
Serpent Mage is longer on lengthy conversations and shorter on action (although what action there is is quite good) than the previous books in this series, but the authors do an excellent job of building up compelling intrigue, which drives the story forward to a satisfying climax. If there are any criticisms of the story, they would include the fact that the overall plot structure bears more than a casual resemblance to that of Fire Sea, the case of Haplo being too quick and too eager to trust the dragon-snakes (particularly as they all but have “evil” written across their foreheads), and the fact that the geographical structure of this world is extremely alien, not all that clearly explained, and thus kind of confusing. But by and large these are minor quibbles.
Character development gets a passing grade. Haplo spends a lot of the book kind of stuck between gears, and Alfred, while he’s making progress, can still be extremely frustrating. Samah is nicely done for the most part; he can be impressively complex, although he lapses into the one-note arrogant despot a bit too often.
In the end, Serpent Mage is an engaging, page-turning novel that continues this series’ strong march forward. It’s at least as good as Fire Sea, and maybe better.