The Magicians’ Guild: A simple but engaging story of class conflict

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan fantasy book reviews
The first installment of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild is the story of a young girl, Sonea, who discovers that she possesses magical abilities. As a lower class street girl living in the slums of the imaginary city of Imardin with her aunt and uncle, Sonea’s life has been one of destitution and hatred of the city’s snobbish upper class. Every year, the magicians of Imardin hold a Purge, during which they sweep the streets of Imardin in an attempt to eliminate beggars and vagabonds. Unsurprisingly, the masses of Imardin have never been particularly taken up with the idea, so one day, Sonea, burning with loathing of the Magicians’ Guild, throws a rock at a thaumaturge. Protected by magical shields, the magicians of Imardin never expected to be in danger of attack by the residents of the slums … but Sonea’s rock effortlessly bypasses their shields to strike an unsuspecting magician. From then on, the magicians enter full panic mode as they try to track down Sonea, while Sonea, brought up in an environment distrustful of the magicians, attempts to escape them. In a way, this cat-and-mouse game is one of my favorite parts of the plot of The Magicians’ Guild because it brings to the spotlight the class conflict present in Canavan’s world.

For the duration of the story, the Magicians’ Guild has recruited magicians only from the upper crust of society, blatantly ignoring the lower classes. As a gifted magician who is revealed to be potentially more powerful than many of the guild’s existing members, Sonea sends ripples through the guild, many of whom are fearful of a rogue practitioner. Subjected to watching the Purge annually, Sonea is naturally afraid of the Guild’s efforts to locate her and is afraid of the worst, so she strikes a deal with Imardin’s underworld, a shadowy organization known as the Thieves, who assist her in eluding capture. Already, we can see the beginnings of class conflict. However, it doesn’t just end there. [Spoiler: Highlight if you want to read it] After the Thieves turn Sonea over to the Guild over concerns of Sonea’s uncontrolled powers going rogue, two Guild magicians compete to become mentors and sponsors to Sonea. One of them, Lord Fergun, is in reality a classist in disguise, a member of the nobility who wants to sabotage Sonea’s education and ensure that no lower class magicians are selected for guild training ever again — he’s rather unscrupulous about it, too! The other competitor, Lord Rothen, is a kindly chemist who genuinely cares for Sonea and feels for her plight. Although Rothen is generally very accepting of Sonea, many of the other guild members are not, and, being raised in the slums, hatred of the Guild has become a part of Sonea’s identity. So as we follow Sonea’s training in the guild, we continue to see the class conflict between the nobility and the masses. [End spoiler] In general, I love that Canavan chose to make class conflict such an integral part of her plot — much of the story would have felt incomplete without it.

Another aspect of The Magicians’ Guild that I particularly enjoyed was the simplicity of the plot. For most of the novel, there’s one storyline and only one storyline — that of Sonea and her relationship with the Guild. Though there are hints of a romantic relationship between Sonea and her childhood friend Cerni, Canavan chose not to develop this subplot, and I applaud her decision in an age where it seems that every novel with teenage protagonists includes some sort of love story. To have introduced romance in The Magicians’ Guild would have distracted me from the main story while not adding much worthwhile to the plot. Especially with the strong and realistic characters, more subplots would have felt simply unnecessary. So although usually I’m a fan of epic fantasy and tons of other storylines in a novel, I enjoyed The Magicians’ Guild for being the exact opposite of those books. All in all, I found The Magicians’ Guild an engaging read and a refreshing change from a lot of other high fantasy; it’s a strong start to THE BLACK MAGICIAN series, and I look forward to reading the next two books.

~Kevin Wei


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThis book was just so sappy and slow that I could hardly finish it. This is just weak stuff. It reads like a teenage girl’s diary and the heroine was so ridiculous that I won’t be reading the rest.

~John Hulet


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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is an undergrad at Columbia University. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea. This might just be because Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of the SFF genre at the ripe old age of 5. His literary tastes range from epic fantasy to military fantasy to New Weird, although sometimes he does enjoy a good space opera here and there, and some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. To Kevin, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he is extremely discriminating as it pertains to this last bit. Outside of his bibliophilic life, Kevin loves economics, philosophy, policy debate, classical music, and political science. You can find him at: www.kevinwei.me

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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2 comments

  1. A thoughtful review, Kevin. I’ve never been able to get into Canavan’s books, and I’m not sure why. I think in some of her later series the amount of description slowed the story down way too much for me. It looks like that didn’t happen here, or you appreciate her level of detail.

    • I’ve never read Canavan, though I have some of her audiobooks that I was given as review copies. I’ve always had the impression that they’re a little too simple (to use your word), but I should probably try one. (Though, based on what Marion says above, I think I’d probably feel the same way she does.) I’m glad you like this book and hope you’ll be reviewing the rest of them.

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