The Black Magician Trilogy – A slow burner, but a delight

Trudi Canavan’s fantasy trilogy has been sat on my bookshelves for longer than I care to admit (I’m talking years here). After snatching them up at a secondhand bookshop for an absolute bargain, they always seemed to be at the bottom of my reading list. So a few weeks ago I finally picked them up to read, and it baffles me that it took me so long.

We are brought into the trilogy with the first volume The Magicians’ Guild, which tells the story of our heroine Sonea, a slum girl who is discovered to have unprecedented magical abilities. She treads a fine line between the Thieves (who essentially run the slums) and the Guild, who are tracking her down every step of the way. All magicians must be admitted to the Guild for training, and though Sonea doesn’t know it, for safety. But when the Magicians’ Guild are a bunch of jumped up posh-kids, who have never done anything for the people of slums except drive them out during the annual Purge, joining their ranks doesn’t exactly seem like the most appealing option. While the Guild frantically search for her, Sonea’s fate rests on her powers: how quickly they will develop, how strong they will get, and how long before she loses control.


The Magicians’ Guild

I dived into The Magicians’ Guild straight reading The Vorrh, by B. Catling, eager for something a little more thrilling to wrap me up in its pages. While The Vorrh was reasonably interesting, I wouldn’t exactly describe it as enjoyable, and it was often very dry to read – lots of poetics and not enough narrative. I think it’s this fact that led me to find some of the sentences and phrases used by Trudi Canavan in The Magicians’ Guild, a little on the simplistic side. The kind of thing that I would read back over in my own work, and red flag it as something that needed to be altered.

That said, the book was an enjoyable ride. I think Sonea is a great protagonist, and it was good to see both sides of the story, from inside and outside the Guild, early on. I did think it took an awfully long time for Sonea to get to the Magicians’ Guild though – which we all knew would happen eventually. The best thing about The Magicians’ Guild though, was the ending, by a long way! For the last quarter I was in so much suspense, convinced that Sonea was going to make the wrong decision somewhere along the line. But time and time again, she came around to the right one, and it was a veeery satisfying ending because of that.

The Novice

The second instalment had the same sentence problems (if that’s the right word), but I’d come around to them by the end of The Novice. Things progressed nicely here, and not at all slowly I thought, which I was wary of beginning this book as it’s longer than the first. Regin is suitably horrid, and Dorrien a breath of fresh air, though I missed Cery here – I expected to see more of him as he’s so prevalent in the first book.

The narrative is also split well between the different leading characters: Sonea and Rothen, as before, with the additions of Dannyl on his Ambassadorial mission and Lorlen trying to deal with their black magician problem. Speaking of whom, I thought the midway bombshell of claiming Sonea’s guardianship was handled perfectly. I didn’t see it coming any more than Sonea did, and that scene made for some great reading! As did the final couple of chapters, with the Arena battle and the erm, situation, in Akkarin’s underground room.

I enjoyed The Novice more than The Magicians’ Guild overall, mainly because I found that first section less frustrating. And I found more sympathy with Sonea in the classroom at the hands of Regin, than as a slum girl who hated the Guild perhaps more strongly than the reality called for.

The High Lord

Now. Now. This last one was the best book in the trilogy, by a country mile. The first thing of note is the return of Cery – can I get a hallelujah!? I was so glad to see him come back for this one, and I enjoyed his narrative thread. My only criticism is that Cery could have felt more developed if we’d spent more time with him in The Novice, but this wasn’t something that stuck out as a real issue.

The High Lord is an aptly named book – there’s an awful lot that happens surrounding him, and his character arc comes a long way in this book. Even though Akkarin wasn’t a particularly big feature in the first book, he doesn’t feel like he’s been tagged on at the end. And the classic YA love triangle thing was done really well, and handled in a different way to what you might expect, so that it became more of a natural progression of romantic interests, which was refreshing. I actually noticed Akkarin in that way before he was even on Sonea’s radar, which gave the impression of things developing and growing, rather than being shoehorned in for the sake of the drama.

I devoured The High Lord in just a few days. The EMOTIONS!! After the whole black magic saga, when Sonea and Akkarin were banished from Kyralia, that was tough going. And Rothen and Dannyl’s goodbyes were heartbreaking. Some of the descriptions of locations in the Sachakan mountains I thought were vague, but the action was top notch. And I adored Dannyl’s arc and his relationship with Tayend – it was handled sensitively and with integrity, and more importantly I believed in it.

Coming into the final battle, I was really nervous that nobody had died yet (Game of Thrones has ruined me) and seeing Akkarin say goodbye to his lifelong friend Lorlen was horrid. But noooooo, Trudi Canavan wasn’t done with us yet. She only went and killed off Akkarin!! I was genuinely surprised by that turn of events, and it was heart wrenching after all that had happened. That said, it was all handled well, and the line about how he had given too much, and he had given Sonea everything was so meaningful. It was the perfect way for things to have turned out, and (again) a believable turn of events not done purely for the drama.

Final thoughts

Despite the occasional simplistic moments where we are told the protagonist’s state of mind rather than shown it, Canavan writes an exciting tale, particularly when she raises the stakes. There are some elements of predictability within the books, and there’s an allowance here for them being targeted at the younger end of the YA spectrum, but they were no less enjoyable because of it. They were a helluva ride, and Canavan’s sensitivity reaches out of the page and wraps you up in those touching and saddest moments.

Overall: not perfect, but great fun. A joy. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this trilogy.

Author: camillehatcher

Bookworm, film fanatic, quote master, and apprentice wordsmith.

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