Review: ‘The Novice’ by Trudi Canavan

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Title: The Novice (Black Magician Trilogy II)

Author: Trudi Canavan

Published: Orbit, 2007, pp. 581

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: Imardin is a city of dark intrigues and deadly politics, where those who wield magic wield power.  Into this established order has blundered a young street-girl with extraordinary magical gifts.  Adopted by the Magicians’ Guild, her life is changed forever — but for better or for worse?

Sonea knew that she’d face a tough time training within the Magicians’ Guild but she little realised the level of animosity she would face from her fellow novices.  The sons and daughters of the most powerful families in the realm, her classmates seem determined to see her fail — at whatever cost.  But in accepting the protection of the guild’s high lord, Sonea may have embraced a far bleaker fate.  For High Lord Akkarin harbours a secret that is far darker than his magician’s robes.

When, where and why: I’m always interested in reading new fantasy series and so I managed to snag all three of these books at once from a lovely person on BookMooch.  I read the first book, The Magicians’ Guild, at the beginning of August and I wanted to continue the series while the events were still fresh in my mind.

What I thought: Although I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, I thought that The Novice was even better, probably by dint of being the middle book and therefore not requiring much exposition.  This book allows all the setting up of character, place and themes which took place in the first book to be utilised, and consequently there is much more in the way of plot and subplot.  Old characters are developed, new faces are introduced and the story progresses at a swift and exciting pace.  Obviously, it is impossible to discuss book two of a trilogy without revealing something of what happened in the first installment, so please be warned.

Whereas The Magician’s Guild has only one narrative focus, finding Sonea as she tries to escape the Guild and then her decision whether to accept or reject her magic, The Novicedivides its time into two: in one story, Sonea struggles to find her place among her fellow novices and in the other, Dannyl journeys through the allied lands gathering information about ancient magic on a mission for Lorlen.  Although the two stories are geographically distant, events in each impact upon the other and so they do not feel disparate as can sometimes happen.  Instead, I enjoyed the dual narrative and the chance to see some of the rest of the world outside the Guild, particularly in light of how insular the events of the first book were.

Perhaps the most interesting development allowed by having two plots is the increasing focus on Dannyl and what the reader learns about him as the old malicious rumours started by Fergun concerning his sexuality surface once more.  Perhaps it’s a sign of how little recent fantasy I’ve read but, with the exception of Jacqueline Carey’s books where everyone sleeps with everyone else, I think that this is the first time I’ve encountered gay characters in fantasy novels.  It’s certainly the first time that homosexuality as an issue has been discussed, and I was really impressed with how Trudi Canavan handles it.  Rather than being preachy and heavy-handed with her views, she uses varying views of homosexuality to deepen the reader’s understanding of the different cultures and characters that are presented.  It adds an extra dimension to the book which I wasn’t expecting.

The story of Sonea and her trials among her hostile classmates is also enjoyable.  Every time I read a story which involves magic schools I hope that it won’t be a thinly disguised Harry Potter and this one manages to avoid falling into that trap.  Instead of being the main focus, the lessons act as a framework for Sonea’s torment at the hands of Regin and his gang and so the focus is on character development and the advancement of tensions there rather than on how magic is taught.  Some people have complained that Sonea is too passive as a heroine, but I think that her inaction is appropriate given her situation, her background and her nature.  To have her react in a more aggressive manner would be unrealistic, in my opinion.

As book two of three, The Novice serves its purpose well.  It advances the story from the first book and whets the reader’s appetite for the denouement.  I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what Akkarin is up to when it is hopefully revealed in The High Lord.  I still maintain that this trilogy does nothing particularly startling or original, but sometimes it is enough to simply execute the typical and expected very well.  That, for me, is what The Black Magician Trilogy does.

Tea Talk: More milk oolong for me today.  It’s one of those wonderfully economical teas which can be brewed multiple times, so I’m still using yesterday’s tea leaves to brew more delicious tea.

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