THE FIRST BOOK OF AN ACCLAIMED FANTASY TRILOGY.
The Magicians’ Guild proves to be worthy of the praise it has garnered over the years. Bring on the sequels!
The Magicians’ Guild
(The Black Magician Trilogy, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Paperback, 592 Pages
Date: 4th March 2010 (First Published 2001)
Book one of The Black Magician Trilogy transports readers to Imardin, the capital city of the land of Kyralia, where the common folk hate and fear the magicians of the Magicians Guild in equal measure. Not only is the status of the magicians in the land elevated by their Gift of magic, they are also privileged by being born into the noble Houses of Kyralia, the only segment of society deemed to have the potential for magic. This nobility and privilege however, is not the main source of resentment among the common people.
Once a year, by order of the King, the Magicians Guild assists the city guard in evicting and forcibly driving out the poorest inhabitants within the walls of Imardin, out into the sprawling slums that surround the city. This annual event known as The Purge is the driving force that fuels the consternation and enmity of the people towards Kyralia’s magicians.
The story commences with Sonea, a teenage orphan girl, whose aunt and uncle have just been made homeless during The Purge. While her aunt and uncle are busy making arrangements for new accommodation in the slums, Sonea takes to the streets with some of her old childhood friends; a gang of slum dwellers (or “dwells” in the lingo of the slums), which includes her best friend, a boy called Cery.
The dwells set off through the crowded streets in pursuit of the procession of hated magicians leading The Purge, in order to harass and throw rocks at them, in a show of defiance. Sonea is persuaded to tag along, and it is not long before they come upon the magicians. Sonea initially doesn’t participate in the stone throwing that ensues, due to the futility of trying to breach the magical shield the magicians employ to protect themselves.
After a short time, Sonea gives into temptation with a little encouragement from the watching crowd. She too begins throwing stones at the magicians that bounce harmlessly off the magical shield, which only serves to irk her. As Sonea prepares to hurl one final rock at the magicians, a wave of anger sweeps over her. She channels all that emotion into her throw as she lets fly at the magicians, and in that moment Sonea’s life changes forever.
At this point, part one of the book becomes a pursuit story as Sonea flees into the slums with her friends, in fear of her life, certain that the magicians will kill her in a gruesome fashion. An argument can be made that the Guild’s pursuit of Sonea, which comprises almost the entirety of part one, drags on for an unnecessarily long time. Once it has been revealed that Sonea’s released magical potential will kill her and destroy a significant area of the slums if she’s not trained to control her power, it is never in doubt that the magicians would apprehend her, and bring her back to the Guild.
That being said, the pursuit is never boring but the story really begins in earnest with the transition to part two. Once within the walls of the Magicians Guild, the story proceeds to explore themes of prejudice and privilege within Kyralian society, and the difficulties in overcoming and letting go of them.
From Sonea’s side, she has grown up believing that magicians are essentially evil; who use their power, not for the common good, but for the purpose of self-interest, and preserving the privileged status of the noble Houses. She is forced to reassess the validity of these generalisations and her prejudices derived from them, after being befriended by an elder magician, Lord Rothen, who was instrumental in saving her life and bringing her into the Guild.
While her life-long bias is not easily abandoned, the opportunity to prove that someone born outside the Houses is just as capable and worthy of becoming a magician, helps Sonea to overcome her prejudice, and elect to turn down the option to return home to the slums, and stay with the Guild to complete the five years of study required to become a magician.
The prejudicial attitudes on display is by no means one sided. Many elements within the Magicians’ Guild make no secret of their disdain for Sonea, or their displeasure at the prospect of a lowly slum-dweller being welcomed into their ranks to study and train to become a magician. The rest of the novel focuses on one magician’s efforts to derail Sonea’s education and training, and to force her to leave the Guild permanently.
All manner of shenanigans ensue in this enjoyable first instalment of The Black Magician Trilogy. Though The Magicians’ Guild’s narrative is simple, cliché ridden, and for the most part rather predictable, Trudi Canavan writes in a manner that is always engaging and fast paced; the pages just seem to fly by very rapidly.
Where The Magicians’ Guild really shines is in its ensemble of memorable characters. All the main characters are well written, fully realised individuals, each with distinct personalities, and believable motivations. Even an odious character such as Lord Fergun, who isn’t meant to be likeable, is still a compelling character none the less.
Trudi Canavan even makes some of the minor characters just as memorable, if not more so, as the main figures; this is illustrated very aptly by the introduction of Akkarin, the mysterious High Lord of The Magicians’ Guild who is, to my mind, unquestionably the most intriguing character of the book. Despite only appearing for brief moments during the story, what little is revealed about Akkarin is more than enough to get you to want to know more about him and his back-story.
As with any first book of a trilogy there are certain mysteries which remain unresolved, providing a glimpse at what may yet to come. The Magicians’ Guild succeeds in making these loose ends so tantalising that you will want to jump immediately into the next book of the trilogy to see if and how these things are addressed.
In conclusion, if The Magicians’ Guild was a stand-alone novel, it could probably be considered to be somewhat underwhelming; it is littered with many clichés of the fantasy genre, and it possesses almost no surprises, as its plot is rather predictable. As the first instalment of a trilogy, however, it is a triumph, establishing a credible fantasy world, populated with believable characters, and teases you with the promise of bigger things to come in the subsequent novels. Those readers who do progress to the second and third books of The Black Magician Trilogy, will be rewarded greatly.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.