Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

# Title: The Magician’s Apprentice
# Author: Trudi Canavan
# Hardcover: 608 pages
# Publisher: Orbit
# Publication Date: February 23, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0316037885
# ISBN-13: 978-0316037884
# Author Site
# Read an Excerpt

Once upon a time, I sat down and read an entire fantasy series (at that time, some 8 volumes at 800-900 pages each) in the span of one week. I simply could not put this series down. I HAD to keep reading. Nothing less was acceptable.

Since that time, I have used that feeling, that utter and complete feeling of “lostness” in a work to help me define the fiction that is a must read. They are a rare bunch, usually occurring where I least expect it. Jordan, Martin, Pratchett, Card, Herbert, Hearn and some others have each gotten me so completely lost in their works that time slips by unnoticed, hunger is not felt, and the book never leaves my side.

And so it was with Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice. I couldn’t let it go. From page one; I dived deep into the characters of Tessia, Jayan, Dakon, Stara, and Hanara. Each and every one became my close personal friend, a person I cared for, and whose success was important to me, even when at times I loathed their decisions.

Canavan’s newest work is a prequel to her successful Black Magician trilogy, telling the story of how the magician’s guild came into being, and of the war between Kyralia and Sachakan. This epic fantasy is a multiple perspective work, each portion of the tale being told through the eyes of the characters previously mentioned. The story begins with Tessia, and her desire to be a healer. But thing change for her when it is discovered she is a “natural”, a magician who can do magic without formal training, although without such training she will eventually die. Dakon is the master who discovers here, and Jayan is her jealous fellow apprentice. When their country home is destroyed, Dakon, Jayan, and Tessia are forced to go to war with the Sachakan invaders, and in doing so learn a lot about themselves and each other.

Stara and Hanara are Sachakans. It is through them we learn of the Sachakan slavery-based patriarchal society and its effect on individuals. Hanara is a slave (a source slave, used only for latent magical power), and Stara effectively one (a daughter and wife). Slavery is presented as evil in The Magician’s Apprentice but Hanara’s perspective is built on what we now know about the psychology of slaves. E doesn’t act towards freedom the way someone used to being free would expect, and this is signifant piece of psychology on which the story turns. Stara is a woman trapped in a patriarchal society that demeans anyone not male. Through her (as well as Tessia in Kyralia to some extent) we understand the damage that such a society of inequality can render. Though this portion of the tale is obviously feminist in mantra, it will be appreciated by readers who like strong heroines, Canavan does make it believable. Although her opinions about patriarchal and unequal society are made plain, they are neither pedantic nor preachy.

The plot line is not original, nor does it have any significant twists and turns. There are several tropes, like the heroine who is almost raped and the love story between two people who seem to hate each other at first. But they are still entertaining and are well-written and plausible. It is a clear cut story of a war between two opposing sides, with one the clear aggressor. Although the story does end surprisingly, because whereas most stories would have ended with the ousting of the aggressor, The Magician’s Apprentice continues to an unusual conclusion. At least, it will be for readers who have not read Canavan before, and do not know the later history of Kyralia and Sachakan.

The story does allow the characters to be morally grey, not being a clearly defined as good or evil, though the primary characters are generally perceived as heroes, and there are obvious villains. Good characters stay good for the most part, and evil characters stay evil.

Best of all, (this is my favorite part of the narrative’s world-building) since Canavan describes a world where magic, while not prevalent, is exceptionally powerful, she makes no attempt at having the war occur between traditional armies. This epic fantasy instead makes the war entirely magical. Battles are fought between powerful magicians, not sword and shield armies. This makes battles small and decisive. It is very consistent with the world Canavan has created. That consistency is the novel’s primary strength. Canavan does not violate the rules of her world in any respect I could discern. No deus ex machina here.

The writing too, is quite excellent. Canavan is superb at pacing, never allowing the story to lull into being boring. There are highs and lows of plot, and the story builds gracefully into a crescendo of battle, dips slightly for a time, and then climbs again into an unexpected climax. The story starts slowly and carefully, allowing ample time for the characters to be constructed enough that I was invested in them before the real action started. The Magician’s Apprentice is so well cadenced that you will have read a hundred pages before you know it.

Ultimately, this is a beautifully constructed tale of love, war, power and consequence. Each character is interesting in its own right, and the story is so well-constructed that hours fly by in its reading. Since this is a stand-alone novel and prequel, it is also an excellent entry point into the world Canavan has made. I highly recommend Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice without reservation. It will not disappoint any epic fantasy fan, and will entertain anyone who reads only the big names of epic fantasy in much the same way. Canavan is a name I now list among those few authors in whose works I wholeheartedly lose myself.