THE EAGERLY AWAITED FIRST BOOK OF A NEW TRILOGY.
If it was worth the wait is debatable. Fans Of The Black Magician Trilogy should brace themselves for disappointment.
Priestess Of The White
(The Age Of The Five Trilogy, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 688 Pages
Date: 4th March 2010 (First Published 2005)
So what do you do after writing a critically acclaimed, best selling fantasy trilogy? That was the question facing Australian author Trudi Canavan after the success of The Black Magician Trilogy, which earned her a legion of fans who would eagerly await whatever she wrote next. Her answer appeared in the form of, Priestess Of The White, the first book of a new trilogy called The Age Of The Five, which, unlike its predecessor, is not aimed at the Young Adult audience.
Inevitably, those readers who have previously read and enjoyed The Black Magician Trilogy, will approach Priestess Of The White with heightened expectations. This is perfectly understandable, as I too began reading the book harbouring hopes of encountering the same dramatic, quick moving narrative that defined Trudi’s first trilogy; only this time with new characters and a markedly different storyline.
Of course, having elevated expectations doesn’t have to mean that disappointment is inevitable. However, for readers who, like myself, come to Priestess Of The White anticipating new characters and new plots, disappointment rears its ugly head very early on.
While Trudi Canavan’s new tale is more ambitious in scope, there are so many parallels, both in terms of characterisation and plot, between Priestess Of The White and The Black Magician Trilogy, that it seems as though you’re reading the same story, regurgitated, with just the names of people and places altered. To illustrate the point, protagonist and titular character of the book, Auraya Dyer, is so similar to, Sonea, that she may as well be; Danjin Spear, is essentially the same character as Lord Rothen; while Dreamweaver Leiard will invariably be likened to High Lord Akkarin by all readers.
As for similarities in plot; would it surprise you to learn that black clad sorcerers from foreign lands are intent on invading the homelands of the heroine, who has an instrumental role to play in thwarting their nefarious scheme? I’ll go out on a limb and say, probably not.
Obviously, these superficial parallels will be of no concern to readers who have not yet read The Black Magician Trilogy, therefore they can embark upon Priestess Of The White without the burden of preconceived hopes and expectations. That of course is no guarantee that the uninitiated will be immune to feelings of disappointment, as the novel has other issues unrelated to its similarities to the author’s previous work.
Moving away from the already mentioned parallels, there is one notable thematic difference that distinguishes Priestess Of The White from the earlier trilogy, and that is, the role of religion; a subject not touched upon in The Black Magician Trilogy.
The setting of the novel is the several lands that comprise the continent of North Ithania, where the inhabitants are overwhelmingly adherents of the Circlian religion. The Circlians worship the five gods who alone survived the war between gods, in an earlier period of time known as the Age Of The Many. The Circlians believe that in exchange for worshipping them, the gods will collect and save their souls when they die. They also have little tolerance for those who don’t worship the gods, like the Dreamweavers; a cult movement of pacifist healers who refuse to worship the Circlian gods. Likewise, The Wilds, a small but legendary, motley crew of immortal sorcerers who must remain hidden due to their opposition to the gods.
It’s against this backdrop that the author introduces the heroine, Auraya, a girl from the land of Hania who spends her childhood being tutored by a local Dreamweaver called Leiard, despite her belief in the five gods. Once Auraya reaches her teens, her devotion to the Circlian gods leads her to abandon her studies of Dreamweaver healing, when she is presented with the opportunity to train to become a Circlian priestess; a path that requires her to leave her family and home.
The novel begins in earnest a few years later when an adult Auraya is chosen to become the fifth member of The White; the human representatives of the gods. The White, are Circlian priests who are granted immortality and increased magical abilities in order to carry out the will of the gods throughout the land. Auraya is inducted into The White, but has little time to adjust, before she and her new colleagues are tasked by the gods with uniting all the lands of North Ithania into an alliance.
The purpose of uniting the peoples of North Ithania is so to prepare them for an imminent invasion by the mysterious Pentadrians of South Ithania. The heathen peoples of the southern continent follow the Pentadrian religion, which also worships five gods; a coincidence that I’m certain hints at where this new trilogy will ultimately lead. The Pentadrians believe that the Circlians are erroneously worshipping five fictitious gods, so seek to convert them by force. The Circlians for their part believe that the Pentadrians are the ones worshipping imaginary gods.
Priestess Of The White possesses a number of very intriguing concepts, but they never really come to the fore due to the rather unfocussed narrative. Which brings me to my biggest gripe with the book; the number of viewpoint characters. It is always risky telling a story from multiple points of view, but it can be pulled off successfully with a small number of characters who are equally compelling, with equally interesting storylines to follow. Trudi Canavan herself demonstrated this so adeptly in The Black Magician Trilogy, but in Priestess Of The White, however, there are simply to many P.O.V. characters used.
If the excessive number of viewpoint characters wasn’t an issue, the fact that only one of them is genuinely compelling, certainly is. Emerahl, one of the immortal Wilds, is unquestionably the most interesting character of the novel, so I found myself enjoying her scenes so much more than those of any other character. Following Emerahl going to great lengths to avoid the notice of the gods, and evading their Circlian priest devotees, while seeking to locate the source of the disturbing dreams that plague her, is the highlight of the book. So I was often disappointed when her story was interrupted in order to jump to someone else’s story, especially when that someone else happened to be, Tryss, of the winged, sky people.
To say that the character Tryss annoyed me greatly, would be putting it mildly. It’s not so much that he himself was a particularly annoying addition to the story. It’s just that he is given far too much “page time” for a character whose scenes are tedious to read, and require extra effort to read through. I often had to fight the urge to simply skip his scenes entirely.
As for two of the other notable characters, Auraya and Leiard, the minor issues I had with them are mostly the product of how they are utilised in the story. I feel that the cliché forbidden romance plot did both characters a disservice, especially Leiard. The Dreamweaver has a very intriguing back-story that could have been explored in more depth if he wasn’t reduced to being the love interest of the heroine for most of the novel. Also, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that the manner in which Auraya pursued the affair caused me to think less of her, and question her judgment. I like my heroes to sacrifice their own wants and desires for the greater good.
The disappointment doesn’t end with all the parallels and similarities to the superior Black Magician Trilogy, and the too numerous, unengaging point of view characters. On top of this, is the very anti-climactic and abrupt ending. As the narrative progressed it seemed to be heading towards an epic conclusion; a dramatic battle between the Pentadrian invaders and their Circlian adversaries. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that the battle ended far too swiftly. It was over so soon after it began.
It may well be that much of my disappointment with Priestess Of The White, can be attributed the fact that I have previously read and loved Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy. So with that in mind, I would say that this is a book that will be enjoyed more by those who have not read Trudi’s previous work.
In conclusion, part of me feels as though I am being overly critical of Priestess Of The White. After all, it’s by no means a bad novel. However, Trudi Canavan, has set the bar very high for herself with The Black Magician Trilogy, especially the third book, The High Lord, so all her subsequent works will judged against that. With that being said, Priestess Of The White, does more than enough as the first instalment of a trilogy, to make you want to read the second book. So in that respect, at least, it can be deemed a success.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.