Retro Review: The Magician’s Apprentice (2009)

Trudi Canavan

Hachette Australia (2009)

ISBN: 9780733623967

Black Magician #0.5

Trudi Canavan is a shining star in speculative fiction. The Magician’s Apprentice demonstrates why.

Set in a detailed world where magician’s rule, the story follows Tessia, daughter of a healer who discovers a natural magical power. The local lord, the magician Dakon, takes her on as a second apprentice, although his first, a young man named Jayan, is less than impressed. The catalyst for uncovering Tessia’s power was a personal attack by a visiting mage from neighbouring Sachakan, who soon proves to have a far bigger agenda than molesting young girls.

The Magician’s Apprentice is the prequel to Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy. While it stands fairly well on its own as a self-contained story, I couldn’t help feeling there were a number of plot components that were included only to support the trilogy. As I have not yet read those three books, I must stress that the elements I address below that didn’t hit my personal reader buttons may be received very differently once I have read the trilogy, and may well pass unnoticed by someone already familiar with Canavan’s other works.

Canavan’s skill with words is evident in the way the story draws you along, building in intensity and pace as the chapters progress and holding the reader spellbound throughout. Following Tessia’s journey and her ongoing devotion to healing, despite the power she now discovers within herself, was fascinating. While she accepts her new abilities, and works hard to use them and deal with her new station in life, she never gives up hope that she can somehow achieve her early dreams of being a healer, something that was actually denied her even before she gained her power. Her dedication in working on this ambition is cleverly done and makes sense in terms of the overarching story.

I was a little disappointed in what I saw as a slight lack of tension. The devastation Tessia must have felt over some of the atrocities committed by the Sachakan invaders was not fully explored. Additionally, the characterisation was not always as complex as the situation may have warranted, particularly in the cases of Jayan and the ley lord Narvelan. Both experienced significant changes in perspective or personality that were not wholly believable due to a rather passive approach to these changes.

I’m not entirely certain the multiple point of view narration worked for me, but again, I envisage that the multiple perspectives might be necessary in terms of the trilogy. This is particularly true of the parts of the story told by the slave Hanara. Hanara’s tale, and the story of Stara and the Traitors (a group of women escaping the confines of their highly restrictive society), were the two main parts of the plot that felt very much as though they were essential to the future stories of the Black Magician trilogy, but added relatively little to the novel at hand.

Overall, despite the fact I have identified some facets of the story that may have not worked completely effectively for me, The Magician’s Apprentice is still a wonderful read, setting up the scene for the trilogy ahead but still holding its own as an intricate story. Canavan has a gift for storytelling that rings true no matter what she writes. This book holds the reader despite containing portions that may not work exceptionally well on a critical reading by a reader not familiar with the existing story. This does not, however, detract from overall readability and enjoyment of the story, and the fact I want to read more means it’s done its job. I look forward to extending my reading in her world of magicians.

This review was previously published at ASiF!

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