Tuesday, May 05, 2009

“The Magician’s Apprentice”, by Trudi Canavan (Orbit)


The Epic Prequel to Canavan’s acclaimed Black Magician Trilogy

In a remote village in Kyralia, Tessia is assistant to her father, the village healer. Despite knowing that women aren’t accepted by the Guild of Healers, Tessia is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps, until her life takes an unexpected turn.

Forced to fight off the attentions of a visiting Sachakan mage, Tessia instinctively uses magic and ends up contemplating a very different future as Lord Dakon’s apprentice. However, things in her new life don’t run smoothly either: Dakon already has an apprentice who isn’t exactly thrilled at having to share his master with another, especially a woman who foolishly persists with her healing. Meanwhile, Tessia is about to discover that her magical gifts bring not only privilege but also responsibility. War is brewing; a war that will change the nature of magic forever…

The Magician’s Apprentice is certainly epic, both in size and scope. At just short of 600 pages, it deals with the build-up to the war and the war itself from the viewpoints of Tessia in Kyralia, and Stara, a woman who also has an unexpected gift for magic and must find her feet in an unfamiliar world, this time in Sachaka. The author also dips in and out of several other viewpoints, including Dakon, Hanara the slave, and Jayan, Dakon’s jealous other apprentice. Although this adds other dimensions to the plot, it can make things confusing, and it can be frustrating when Canavan leaves Tessia in the middle of an exciting situation and then shifts to Stara learning about Sachakan customs, or vice versa. This happens far too often unfortunately, and made me want to skip ahead in places because I was impatient to get back to the action. Also, knowing Jayan’s true intentions lessens the impact of Tessia finding out what he is really like: it sometimes seems as though Canavan spells out too much for the reader when it comes to their relationship.

That being said, the parallels between Stara and Tessia are intriguing, and when the action does get going, the story certainly becomes gripping. She is largely successful at ranging across the two countries and really brings the land and characters to life. In particular, Canavan manages to create two strong and appealing female characters in Tessia and Stara, which is no mean feat considering they more or less share the book, and usually I would expect to like one viewpoint significantly more than the other.

The author also presents an in-depth exploration of war and the moral dilemma faced by the Kyralian magicians, without over-simplifying matters or really favouring one side over the other.

The book might have benefited from some more fearless editing: both plot and pace suffered from the sheer length of The Magician's Apprentice, and some of the detail could have been tightened up or eliminated altogether.

The Magician’s Apprentice is still a good read though, certainly for those who have read the bestselling Black Magician trilogy. Covering events several hundred years before that trilogy, the novel sets the scene for the formation of the Guild.

In general, Canavan’s writing is assured, her characters are well-rounded and varied, and she holds the story together over such a large canvas with reasonable success.

A recommended read.

Followed by: The Magician’s Guild, Novice, The High Lord

Also try: Maria Snyder’s Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study; Trudi Canavan’s Age of The Five series (Priestess of the White, Last of the Wilds, Voice of the Gods)

Reviewed by Emma

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