Reviewed by Alyssa Mackenzie
Sonea, former street urchin, now a Black Magician of Kyralia, is horrified when her son, Lorkin, volunteers to assist Dannyl in his new role as Guild Ambassador to Sachaka, a land still ruled by cruel black magicians. When word comes that Lorkin has gone missing, Sonea is desperate to find him, but if she leaves the city she will be exiled forever, and besides, her old friend Cery needs her help.
Most of his family has been murdered – the latest in a long line of assassinations to plague the leading Thieves. There has always been rivalry, but lately it seems the Thieves have been waging a deadly underworld war, and now it appears they have been doing so with magical assistance…
I must admit to being a little apprehensive when I began The Ambassador’s Mission. This book is Trudi Canavan’s fifth novel set in and around the Kyralia kingdom. Her previous books in this world include her bestselling Black Magician Trilogy, and The Magician’s Apprentice, a prequel covering events that occur some centuries earlier. The Ambassador’s Mission is the first in a sequel trilogy to the Black Magician books, entitled The Traitor Spy, set twenty years after the events of the Black Magician trilogy, and featuring many of the same characters. Of Canavan’s prior Kyralia books, I have read only The Magician’s Apprentice.
My concern when I started The Ambassador’s Mission was that, not having read the first trilogy, I would be simply lost, unable to appreciate either the characters or the demands of the world in which they live. In this, it turns out, I did a disservice to Canavan, both as a story-teller and as a world-builder.
The Ambassador’s Mission is told through four perspectives. Sonea, once a rogue magician, is now a Black Magician occupying an insecure position in the Magician’s Guild. Her son Lorkin is a recently graduated magician uncertain of his future. Cery is a Thief – an underworld leader - and Sonea’s friend whom she must meet in secret because of his criminal activities. Lord Dannyl is a scholarly magician writing a history of magic. All but Lorkin feature in the Black Magician; however, in the twenty years since the events of the first trilogy, it is clear that the people and politics of Kyralia have changed, in some cases dramatically. Canavan makes good use of this time gap to (re-)introduce her world and her characters, establishing events of the previous books for newer readers through the memories of her characters as she presents the new world that these events have brought about.
The four narratives that make up the novel fall naturally into two pairings: Sonea and Cery searching for a murderer, while navigating the hazardous social and political waters of the city Imardin; and Lorkin and Dannyl on their quest for magical knowledge through exotic Sachaka. While aspects of both are resolved at the end of the book, The Ambassador’s Mission is mostly concerned with setting up action and conflict for the trilogy as a whole. Canavan effectively balances competing plot elements, raising the stakes for her characters as the novel progresses, and constantly adding to their motivations. She weaves a complex story that will leave readers eager for future instalments.
My main reservation about this novel is that Canavan has an occasional tendency to rely too heavily on the interior monologues of her characters (rather than action or dialogue) to relay information, which means the pace drags in places. This can also result in action being reported rather than portrayed, and emotion explicitly stated rather than demonstrated through behaviour. In particular, I found that developing love between Lorkin and Tyvara suffered in this respect, especially early on. However, Canavan’s story and world are interesting enough to make this an enjoyable read regardless.
The Ambassador’s Mission has a lot to offer for new and old readers alike. It is a story of intrigue and adventure, drawing on previous books set in Kyralia (including, I was pleased to discover, the prequel: aspects of The Magician’s Apprentice prove to be very important to Dannyl and Lorkin’s storylines) but easily read without that background. New readers may find themselves wanting to read the previous books, but only for the pleasure of returning to Canavan’s excellently-imagined world.
Kyralia Chronology: The Magician’s Apprentice; The Black Magician Trilogy: The Magician’s Guild, The Novice, The High Lord; The Traitor Spy Trilogy: The Ambassador’s Mission, The Rogue (May 2011), The Traitor Queen (forthcoming).