A PLUCKY YOUNG HEROINE OVERCOMES ALL THE ODDS
A gripping sequel that defies the conventional wisdom of the second book always being the weakest instalment of a trilogy.
(The Black Magician Trilogy, Book 2)
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Paperback, 592 Pages
Date: 4th March 2010 (First Published 2002)
Conventional wisdom suggests that the second book of a trilogy is invariably the weakest instalment. I’ve never subscribed to this “conventional wisdom”, and it’s certainly not true of book two of Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy. The Novice is unquestionably an improvement upon the previous novel, The Magicians’ Guild. The story is bigger in scope, and expands the world it is set in by moving some of the narrative beyond the city of Imardin and the borders of Kyralia.
As with any second instalment of a trilogy, there are certain plot elements that one can assume will not be resolved until the third book. In this case, that means not learning the whole truth about Akkarin, the High Lord of the Magicians’ Guild, who was revealed to be a practitioner of forbidden black magic at the end of book one. To get around this limitation, Trudi Canavan makes the central plot of the story, the persistent and malicious bullying that protagonist Sonea is subjected to within the Guild. Consequently, the efforts of Administrator Lorlen and Lord Rothen to conceive a way to remove Akkarin without endangering the Guild is relegated to sub-plot status.
The story commences shortly after the epilogue of book one, with Sonea now a full fledged novice of the Magicians’ Guild. Unsurprisingly, Sonea is essentially a pariah, as most of her peers want nothing to do with a lowly slum-dweller. To make matters worse, a small group of novices led by an especially despicable boy called Regin have taken it upon themselves to make Sonea’s life hell. While the bullying is initially rather tame and innocuous, it gradually escalates and becomes much more severe.
The bullying is compounded even further after Akkarin—in order to gain leverage over Lord Rothen—relieves Rothen of his guardianship of Sonea, and takes her under his wing thereby making Sonea “The High Lord’s Favourite”.
If the author was hoping to elicit sympathy from readers for the heroine, then she failed for the most part. I suspect that many readers will actually be infuriated by how Sonea handles (or doesn’t handle) the bullying of her tormentors. Even when the harassment descends into potentially life threatening attacks, Sonea’s reluctance to defend herself let alone retaliate is incredibly frustrating, especially as it is made clear that she is so much more powerful than her adversaries. Additionally, Sonea’s unwillingness to hurt her attackers seems a little out of character for a girl who didn’t hesitate to stab a man who attempted to sexually assault her in the slums.
That being said, the bullying storyline does eventually reach a very satisfying conclusion by the end of the book, with Sonea triumphantly earning the grudging respect of the members of the Magicians’ Guild. It’s just unfortunate that this plot is given prominence over the more interesting sub-plot which sees Lord Dannyl—in his capacity as a newly appointed ambassador—travelling the Allied Lands on behalf of Lorlen and Rothen. His mission, to retrace Akkarin’s footsteps after his graduation from the Guild when he embarked on a journey in pursuit of ancient magical knowledge which kept him away from Kyralia for several years, only to return as the most powerful Guild magician, and subsequently becoming the youngest ever High Lord.
As with book one of the trilogy, The Novice’s strength lies it its characters. We get to know more about the main characters whom we were first introduced to in The Magicians’ Guild—their motivations and what makes them tick—as well as meeting a few new characters like Dorrien, the son of Rothen, and potential love interest for Sonea, plus Lord Yikmo an instructer who helps Sonea deal with the bullying.
Some readers may find that Sonea is considerably more annoying this time around, but let’s cut her some slack, she is a teenage girl after all.
Once again—for myself at least—High Lord Akkarin is the most intriguing character of the story. Though still a secondary character, Akkarin plays a more significant role in The Novice, and could in fact be considered to be the antagonist this time around; at least he appears to be on the surface. Readers who pay attention will certainly notice that Akkarin isn’t necessarily what he appears to be, and that there is so much more to his story than is revealed in The Novice.
In summation, readers who were underwhelmed by the first book of The Black Magician Trilogy, should be pleased to know that The Novice is a notable improvement. Trudi Canavan has successfully put together a much stronger, more compelling narrative which eschews the predictability of its predecessor, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls that can be detrimental to the second book of a trilogy.
The Novice is a must read novel for both adults and teens, which masterfully defies the “conventional wisdom” about second books of a trilogy being the weakest, and will leave readers eagerly anticipating the final instalment of The Black Magician Trilogy.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.