LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES TWICE
THE FOLLOW UP TO THE BLACK MAGICIAN TRILOGY MISSES THE MARK AS IT FAILS TO RECAPTURE LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
The Ambassador’s Mission
(The Traitor Spy Trilogy, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
Date: 7th April 2011 (First Published 2010)
There is an adage which teaches us that, “you should never go back”. This saying is usually used in reference to romantic relationships, but perhaps it should also serve as a warning to authors wanting to revisit past glories; though the temptation to do so is, of course, perfectly understandable. Returning to the scene of a previous triumph no doubt seems like the safe and easy path to take. But how often does it turn out not to be the case? Certainly, The Ambassador’s Mission, provides a perfect illustration as to the wisdom of the words, “you should never go back”.
I cannot fault author, Trudi Canavan, for believing a sequel trilogy to her most successful work would be a win-win proposition. The Black Magician Trilogy was well received by critics, and loved by many readers; earning her a legion of fans. A return to the Allied Lands, twenty years after the events of the previous trilogy, to revisit an adult Sonea in a new adventure, sounds like an exciting prospect. Though I had certain misgivings (which I’ll address later) about the book before I began reading, nothing could prepare me for the disappointment that awaited in this first instalment of The Traitor Spy Trilogy. I am not someone who is prone to indulging in hyperbole, but The Ambassador’s Mission is a failure in every conceivable way.
So what went so drastically wrong? Well let’s start with the most glaringly notable problem first. At no point during the book is the narrative in any way engaging; a criticism I never thought I would ever level at Canavan’s writing. Though actual boredom didn’t quite settle in, the story is so ponderous that extra effort was required to keep turning the pages; all in the vain hope that something of significance would happen. (But it didn’t.)
Perhaps some of the lack of engagement can be attributed to the plot; or should I say the plots? As there are two distinct, and apparently unconnected, plots running throughout; each one with its own sub-plots. This goes some way to explaining the lack of focus in the narrative, as Canavan tries to give both storylines equal time, hence the constant jumping back and forth between them. But the book would have been better served if the plot involving Sonea’s son Lorkin, was relegated to minor sub-plot status, if not completely excised from the story completely. Focussing on Sonea’s story; assisting Cery track down the rogue magician responsible for the assassinations of several leading figures among the criminal underground known as The Thieves, would have made for a more compelling read.
Much of my dissatisfaction with the narrative could have been mitigated to some extent, if I felt invested in any of the main characters, which brings me to the most disappointing aspect of the book; poor characterisation. This was very surprising because Canavan is usually so adept at creating such distinct and memorable characters for her stories. On this occasion, however, the exact opposite is the case. The newly introduced characters, who hadn’t featured in The Black Magician Trilogy, are so nondescript that (with the exception of Lorkin) I was never able to remember their names, let alone anything else of consequence about them.
Even the returning characters, whom I was already familiar with, were shadows of their former selves. In particular, I was less than impressed with the depiction of Sonea. You would assume that a character would have undergone a significant amount of development over a period of two decades, yet Sonea seems very much like the teenage girl that she was in the previous trilogy, not the forty year old mother of an adult son that she is supposed to be in this book.
I suspect that a lot of the problems present within this book are the result of the author’s decision to write a trilogy at all cost, even if the story she had in mind doesn’t warrant three books. It certainly seems as though the main culprit for the lack of any truly significant moments during the story, was the desire to save everything of interest for the third book. Which explains why The Ambassador’s Mission feels very much like an overly long prologue. And never in my life have I ever encountered such an abrupt ending to a book. Upon reaching the end of the final chapter, only to turn the page and be greeted by an epilogue, I was utterly convinced that my copy of the book must be missing at least a hundred pages. It actually took several minutes to accept that this was not the case.
It’s hard to believe that all these issues I had with the book, are in no way related to the one thing I had misgivings about before I began reading. With half the story taking place in the land of Sachaka, I was concerned that learning too much about its people and culture would have the effect of de-mystifying the Sachakans. After all, one of the main reasons why they seemed to represent such a threat in The Black Magician Trilogy was that so little was revealed about them; they were a mystery. While The Ambassador’s Mission does indeed de-mystify the Sachakan people, it proves not to be as detrimental as I had feared, given how flawed the rest of the book is.
In summation, book one of The Traitor Spy Trilogy is a very disappointing affair. For readers who are not pre-existing fans of Trudi Canavan, there is little here to warrant reading the rest of the trilogy. But she has earned enough good will from me that I shall finish reading the next two instalments. Although I am now beginning to wonder if Canavan will prove to be a one trick pony, if not an actual one hit wonder.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.