Interesting book, most unusual. I could say that it features an orphaned young man, talking dragons, mages, bucolic country inns, stolen swords and a talking garden gnome, and it would all be true but it would give entirely the wrong impression. This seems like a cute coming of age story, and parts of it are exactly that, but it has far more backbone than that implies.
Firstly, the magic. The mages are not your average thunderbolt-hurling wizards. One of them is someone who simply gathers magic around him, without any intervention on his part. And two are dream-mages, who are perfectly ordinary while awake, but have almost god-like powers while dreaming. Glimmer, the central character, is of this type, and how he learns to live with his abilities is the heart of the story.
More importantly, the author makes the point that magic is everywhere, in us, and around us, and at the core of everything. More specifically, he deals with the issue of how the human mind deals with magic (or fails to deal with it, sometimes). The dream sequences are (perhaps inevitably) the most interesting part of the book, and we feel Glimmer's own awe and fear at his dream-mage experiences. There are also other beings with magical abilities, and a general sense of all-pervading magic overlaying everything, whereever people are open-minded enough to allow for the possibility.
The real problem with this is that Glimmer is capable of almost anything, without any limitations. Even given that his abilities are unusually strong (another dream-mage is clearly less talented), magic without boundaries is really not particularly interesting. Time after time, people (or animals, or artifacts) simply appear where they are needed, or a way is miraculously found to achieve the seemingly impossible. There are events close to the end which come perilously close to deus ex machina.
The author has a suitably poetic writing style which works very well most of the time, although sometimes it gets a little overwrought, and (particularly latterly) tends to obscure what is actually happening. Sometimes (in the dreams, for instance) this is understandable, and there is always enough information given later to work things out, but still, there were several places where I had no idea what the hell was going on, and would have appreciated more clarity.
Plotwise - well, what plot? This is not really a coherent story, rather a series of tenuously linked episodes set against the backdrop of Glimmer growing up. This reduced the tension at several points, and made the book easy to put down, although each episode in itself was quite page-turningly dramatic. There are moments, too, when everything fell into place with perfect rightness - the unexpected appearance of DeVasier, for instance, made me laugh out loud at the sheer awesomeness of it.
Glimmer is a likeable character. In fact, almost all the characters are likeable in a realistic way and even the exceptions are understandably complex and believable. If I have a complaint, it is that almost everyone is simply too nice. Well - magic at work, I suppose. The dragons, of course, steal the show.
On the whole, I enjoyed this. There were times when it was just too twee and I thought - this is (essentially) a talking garden gnome riding a fox, here - and times when the magic just became too easy. I'm also quite confident that a lot of the themes of mind and consciousness were way over my head. But there were wonderfully lyrical passages too that were a joy to read. Four stars.