I was looking at the TVTropes entry for The Mirror of her Dreams and I found myself suddenly recalling bits and pieces of what I think was a different novel that I read at the same time (so somewhere in the later 1990s) as a library book from my hometown of Ashland, KY. The main character is apprenticed to a master, I believe for some sort of functional magic. Unfortunately, the magic bit is not firm in my head, but the method of language training is. Specifically the master had him learning some foreign language by the deep immersion of only using said tongue, and forcing the apprentice to learn to think in said language, which culminated in a scene where the apprentice was holding a frying pan coated in burnt egg and in despair because he can think of none of the words he needs, including that he needs some jeweler's rouge to help him scrape the pan clean. The other bit that sticks out in my head was that he learned that the foreign word for his culture translated out to "wrapped in maps". Unfortunately, my keyword searches seem to be for naught.

I do remember this as being a hardback book. It would almost certainly have been published before 1998, when I graduated, because I remember it being associated with an earlier segment of my life, when my older brothers were actively checking books out from the library. I don't remember much about the setting, other than what I noted about the language, but it was definitely pre-electronics, probably at the level where glasses were being ground out to fix severe vision problems but not enough to be common, unsure about the status of gunpowder. The magic was knowledge-based, but I don't think it involved the traditional arcane trappings of candles, incantations, and summoning circles.

1 Answer 1


Lens of the World by R A MacAvoy.

Lens of the World recounts the coming of age of Nazhuret, an outcast and orphan who rises from his lowly estate as a ward of the Sordaling military school to become a mighty warrior, philosopher, and confidant of the king of Bestinglon himself. The first of a series chronicling the life of Nazhuret!

It was published in 1990 so it neatly fits your time frame.

The wrapped in maps reference is:

To me, a Velonyan raised, Zaquash sounded incomprehensible, half-witted, and sly. What is our immediate impression of the territories’ peasantry? Sly, half-witted, and incomprehensible. Once one begins to understand the tongue, however, their responses seem more consistent, and it is very amusing how they think of us. They call us “wrapped in maps”: astonishing phrase. The actual term for a nobleman, poirsye (you hear it every day in the southern territories, even among those who have no real Zaquash at all), is “hut-crusher.”

The reference to jeweler's rouge is:

For three months we spoke nothing but Allec in the observatory. Powl became a different person in that language. Where in Modern Velonyie he was smooth and ironical, when he spoke Allec he became quick, rattling, pressing, acquisitive, even rapacious. One might sell carpets, having an intonation like Powl’s Allec intonation, and make a very good living at it, too.

But Allec is the universal language of studies, and perhaps what was revealed there was only Powl’s character as a student rather than as a man of the world.

My Allec personality was mute for many weeks. After the first few days of trying to translate everything in my mind into the damnable, shower-of-pebbles sounds, I suddenly began to think in Allec, and since I knew so very few Allec words, I could scarcely think, let alone communicate my simple desires. I remember standing in front of my teacher with tears in my eyes and a frying pan in my right hand, trying to tell him I could not get the burned egg off without some of his jeweler’s rouge, without knowing the word for egg or for washing. I would have used Velonyie, but at this point I had lost the use of the first language and not gained the second.

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    And that partially explains me getting the two titles a bit muddled in my head, lenses and mirrors. And, to forestall a further question, I also recognize the bit where he befriends the wolf in reviews. Was there any magic?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 20, 2018 at 16:48
  • After a bit more poking around (I never actually got around to borrowing and rereading the book), it looks like there is no magic in the setting, although there was a man who acted like a werewolf, and it's definitely in a setting that is not Earth's history.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 3, 2023 at 12:36

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