I'm trying to identify a story I read as a child in the late nineties or early 2000s. It was otherworld fantasy, set in a fairly standard medieval fantasy world.

What I remember: the main character was a young boy living at a castle. One night they are having a feast and a passing wizard performs some illusions for them. When the wizard leaves the boy sneaks out and follows him to become the wizard's apprentice. The wizard isn't too happy about this, but eventually agrees. The wizard proceeds to erase the boy's overly romantic view of what being a wizard is like.

The only specific example that I can recall is that the wizard wears grey robes. The boy assumes that the grey represents a balance between good and evil, but the wizard claims that black is too hot in the summer and white gets dirty too easily.

EDIT: I may be conflating some of the details with Circle of Magic by Debra Doyle (not to be confused with Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce), but it definitely isn't that series. The detail about the gray robes is unique.

  • You know the title makes me imagine a boy planting a bug on a wizard to learn his secrets. Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 15:58
  • @M.A.Golding: That sounds like an excellent story seed (as an electronic bug or a real one), but no, it isn't what I meant. Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 17:06
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    I misread it as "buggering" and I thought to myself "YA stories are really progressive these days".
    – Milo Bem
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 20:28

2 Answers 2


Oh, I know this one. It’s Circle of Magic, by Debra Doyle. Primarily because I've read the book and remember it matching what OP describes, but I did a little digging and found this on the author's website:

Just before noon, Randal found Madoc in the tower. The wizard was reading a small, leather-bound book.

"What is it, lad?" asked Madoc, not looking up.

"I—I want to be a wizard like you," Randal told him.

"How can you want to be a wizard, boy? You haven't go the foggiest idea of what it's all about." Madoc rose and stood glaring down at Randal. "You'll spend most of your life with just enough power to get you into trouble. You'll be hungry more often than you're fed. You'll spend more time in danger on the road than safe under a roof. And maybe you'll survive it all and live to be old and white-bearded and wise—but if you do, most of your friends will have died a long time before. Go back downstairs to your uncle, lad, and one day you'll make a fine knight. Wizardry is no life for you."

Randal went, but he felt restless and uneasy. Even if wizardry was as hard as Madoc said, it was still the only thing he wanted.

However, Madoc does not wear gray robes. He usually wears saffron robes and a gray kilt.

The newcomer wasn't much to look at: a man about forty years old with a short dark beard, carrying a walking staff taller than he was. He wore a loose shirt of faded yellow linen and a rough kilt of gray wool, belted around his waist and folded up over one shoulder. He's a long way from home, thought Randal. Only the half-civilized tribesmen of the north country dressed like that.

The students wear black robes.

All of the young people wore loose black robes over their regular garments; Randal wondered if the robes had some sort of significance.

The Masters at the school wear nicer black robes with more colorful tunics.

The other four wizards wore heavy, velvet-trimmed robes of rich black cloth, with deep hoods thrown back to reveal linings of vivid satin. The northerner still wore his familiar gray kilt and saffron tunic, but a similar robe hung over the tall chair back behind him.

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    I see how this passage might fit in the narrative of the described story, but this doesn't really match the details (nor not match). When was the story published? Was it otherworld fantasy? Did Randal live in a castle? Did Madoc perform illusions? After this scene, does Randal follow Madoc? Become his apprentice? Does the wizard wear grey robes? Why? Do any details that you remember differ from the asker's description?
    – Brythan
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 13:06
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    This is what I immediately though of as well, but I didn't have my copy on hand to check, so I didn't write an answer.
    – Mithical
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 13:18
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    Thank you for cleaning up my comments, to whomever did so.
    – SDrainbow
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 13:21
  • I definitely read the Circle of Magic as a child. I had thought that this book was separate, but it's possible that I was wrong - and it's also possible that my memory of the two books blended together and my description is a combination of the two books. I'm not going to accept any answer unless you can quote the "grey robes" conversation. Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 14:08

The boy sneaking to become the wizard's apprentice reminds me very much of the prologue opening scene of The Dragon Waiting by Johh M. Ford. Been so long since I read the book I don't recall the character's name, but the boy (who loses an eye for his trouble in bringing the wizard food and ale) becomes one of the protagonists of the main part of the novel. This isn't in a castle, however; the boy is a servant in a small inn in Wales.

The book overall is an alternate histroy fantasy, mainly following events in a magical version of medieval Europe. One of the characters is a vampire, another is a woman physician who had previously worked for the Medicis. In the end, it boils down to making sure the wrong person doesn't wind up on the throne of England.

  • The book I'm looking for was other world fantasy, not alternate earth. Also, no eye loss that I can recall. Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 21:34

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