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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“The Magician's Apprentice” by Trudi Canavan (Reviewed by David Craddock)

Official Trudi Canavan Website
Order “The Magician’s Apprentice
Read An Extract HERE

Before the events of 9/11, Americans had grown pompous and superficial in their freedom. Thousands died of starvation and perpetual war overseas while our populace obsessed over fashion trends, maxed out every available credit card, and sulked when our friends' electronic gizmos were more sophisticated than our own.

Like Americans, the inhabitants of the fictional country Kyralia had grown complacent in their freedom. In exchange for protection, homes, and governance, the citizens of every city and village paid a tithe to their ruling magician. This mutual agreement allowed the magicians to sit in their mansions and read books, ponder the meaning of life, and have delectable dinners with their friends.

Shortly following the outset of Trudi Canavan'sThe Magician's Apprentice”, the prequel to The Black Magician Trilogy, a Kyralian village is invaded by Sachaka, a country who granted Kyralia their independence some years ago. The eradication of one small village precedes a string of tragedies and triumphs that demonstrate the fittingly tragic truth that tragedy is often required to make a people evaluate the relevancy of their lives.

Readers first observe Kyralia through the eyes of Tessia, the daughter of a healer whose gift of magic binds her to Lord Dakon, the compassionate magician in charge of her village. Tessia's partner apprentice is Jayan, a spoiled young man from an affluent family who resents having to share Lord Dakon's tutelage with what he perceives to be a simple peasant girl.

It is by observing Jayan and Tessia's rapport that readers are able to compare and contrast the differences between peasants and magicians. Like her father, Tessia's passion is healing; she learns magic because all magic users must learn to control their gift lest it spiral out of control, but more because she hopes to learn how to harness magic toward healing.

Tessia's obsession with healing initially confuses Jayan. Why, he wonders, would a person given the opportunity to wield magic waste time on such a non-magical pursuit? After Tessia retorts to one of Jayan's many snide comments, Jayan reconsiders the woman he believed to be fortunate due to the magic in her blood, yet ultimately simple because of her role in class structure.

A burgeoning respect for Tessia eventually sees Jayan assist in her healing endeavors. Although their attempts at saving lives often end in defeat, they force Jayan to evaluate the class hierarchy into which he was born. Before the invasion, he would have graduated his apprenticeship and become a higher magician. Such ascension meant a life of luxury, and a responsibility that would have been meaningless.

Now, in the aftermath of the invasion and the impending war against Sachaka, the responsibility of becoming a higher magician would be heavy indeed—but is he really ready for something that, mere days ago, represented nothing more than deferential servants, exquisite food, and a shallow governorship of a community?

Kyralian magicians as a whole learn more about themselves and their responsibilities to Kyralia. Before the Kyralians' first confrontation with the Sachakans, Lord Dakon ponders the Sachakan law permitting Sachakan magicians to kill their slaves for power if their magical reserves begin to run low. The king of Kyralia has a law forbidding such cruelty, yet upon realizing he could very well face death in the coming battle, Dakon wonders: if necessary, would he usurp the life of another human as callously as the Sachakans do their slaves?

Chronicling the realistic maturation of characters hung up on class hierarchical strictures is a talent for which Canavan is particularly known, and one that is evidenced throughout most of “The Magician's Apprentice”. Also considered trademark Canavan is the novel's smooth and eloquent prose, which alters ever so slightly depending on the current character's perspective. It is a tactic proficiently employed to further immerse readers in each character's struggle.

Despite a snappy style and interesting characters, “The Magician's Apprentice's” pace is not up to par with Canavan's earlier work. Each story line starts off well-paced and exciting, only to lag horribly at the book's midpoint. Each chapter focuses on one or two parties and grants a smidgeon more insight into their lives, yet the snail's pace, a stark contrast from the exhilarating introduction, will often leave readers convinced that not much progress was made.

After approximately 400 pages of fascinating though sluggish progression, the book's final 100 induce whiplash by alternating between quick recaps of large blocks of time before the reader is thrust back into the present. The end result is a web of tangled story threads with quickie resolutions that are unsatisfying, seemingly born out of thin air, or both.

Many rabid fans of the
ABC drama Lost praise the show for its interesting characters and their mysterious pasts, yet many viewers cannot help feeling unfulfilled when each episode makes no discernable progress despite being quite entertaining. “The Magician's Apprentice” is similarly disappointing. Although the characters and their struggles are poignant, the irresolute pace and groundless conclusions for each character weigh down what could have been an outstanding addition to an otherwise excellent Canavan library.


Janet said...

That's a shame. This sounded like a book with a lot of potential.

I'm in the middle of Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind and I'm feeling much the same thing. Wonderful writing, wonderful world, rich characterization, but a feeling that it's all bogged down without any real forward progression. It's starting to feel like a string of episodes in a sitcom, although admittedly of greater quality. Too many events, not enough change.

Anonymous said...

I'm the only person I know, possibly the only person in existence, who enjoyed this one! ;)

Chester said...

I think your first paragraph is a really distasteful and idiotic cliché about American society pre 9/11 (and even post 9/11, for that matter, as if anything really changed) as well as a simplistic thought about the issue of cultural complacency and societal change.
Are we supposed to be thankful for tragedies, like 3,000 dead, so we can realize a valuable life lesson?

Kendall said...

Agreed, Chester. Also, strike the first paragraph and first two words of the second, and...the review is just as clear. The bizarre 9/11 reference adds nothing at all.

Sorry, David....

Anonymous said...

"The Magician's Apprentice" was my first introduction to Canavan's work. The simplicity of the progression and the glimpses of the character's lives and class strictures are what intrigued me the most. The book has left me wanting more as I'm now reading "The Magician's Guild" and enjoying every bit. As far as the 9/11 comparisons, I see each person's unique take is fascinating and understandable. My response was quite the opposite. I saw America more represented by the Sachakan Empire. The consequences of Sachaka's hubris was a lesson all or us should see within ourselves...

Anonymous said...

I thought that the Magician's Apprentice was a great book. The way Canavan delves into the stories and minds of each character is what fascinates me. It also helps the reader understand more about this world. Truely a great boook! I'd give it a Five Star Rating!!

Anonymous said...

i just read this book and it's very exciting to me... i just can't let go of the book once i read the first page. owh, i hope there will be more stories about the magician's guild...

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed with "The Magician's Apprentice". It was a good read, but I found the book predictable and inconsistent at times. For example, I noticed at one point the random introduction of the term 'Black Magic', a term which supposedly came about when the guild banned of Higher Magic. I also found the book glossed over the ending and other parts which would have been interesting. Overall a good book, but one that didn't live up to my expectations based on Canavan's other works.


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