The Novice: Too little action to be anything but a bridge novel

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Novice by Trudi Canavan epic fantasy book reviewsThe Novice by Trudi Canavan

The sequel to The Magicians’ Guild, Trudi Canavan’s The Novice is book two in her THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy. After being mentored by the kindly Lord Rothen for a number of weeks, Sonea meets the rest of her class at the Guild as the term officially begins. Although she attempts to be friendly with them, all of her class eventually turns against her for being a lower class slum girl rather than members of the nobility like them. In particular, a novice named Regin seems to despise her utterly, for no apparent reason, as he bullies her in a variety of ways, going as far as framing her for a theft she didn’t commit. Interestingly, Lord Dannyl begins to play a larger role in the story as he is sent abroad by Administrated Lorlen to investigate Akkarin’s past and his use of black magic.

Dannyl’s appointment as Second Ambassador to Elyne served as a gateway for Canavan to introduce more of her world to us. With The Novice, we’re brought to many of the other lands that exist around Kyralia and are acquainted with a few different cultures. Certain aspects of the magic system in Canavan’s world become clearer as well. However, though this is all interesting, much of the novel felt simply too much like Canavan was setting up for a grand finale in book three for me to enjoy the story. While I don’t believe Canavan’s world building is her greatest strength, without this element in The Novice, I was almost tempted to quit the series.

Most of what irked me about The Novice was a combination of a lack of action and extremely slow pacing. Throughout the novel, there is little action, if any, until quite literally the last chapter. Although I noted in my review of The Magicians’ Guild that I enjoyed the theme of class conflict, I can’t say that I liked the fact that most of the conflict that occurred in The Novice was between Sonea and her spiteful classmates. Akkarin’s storyline barely budges with the exception of his taking custody of Sonea. Other than that, we see much too much of Regin chasing Sonea through the halls and Regin stealing Sonea’s notes instead of any discovery of Akkarin’s motives or justifications for his actions. If anything, Canavan simply uses book two to portray Akkarin as evil and corrupt while Sonea remains mostly the innocent child we saw in The Magicians’ Guild.

Furthermore, Sonea, along with many of the other characters, doesn’t really undergo much character development. In a way, Sonea’s character might be too simple in The Novice, especially when I consider the plot of book three. In general, Sonea’s personality feels too innocent, and while she does kiss a friend once or twice in The Novice, she still comes across as a child at the end of the book, little changed from book one. The same holds true for many of the other characters. While it’s certainly interesting that Dannyl turns out to be queer, his sexuality felt too artificial and too much like a side note for me to actually consider it to be character development. Akkarin is as intimidating and aloof as always, as I noted above, and Rothen simply gets booted from the plot completely.

When I consider the dearth of character development and the lack of action in The Novice, it becomes very difficult for me to see this novel as anything but a bridge between books one and three. To be honest, after finishing the trilogy, I simply feel that you can almost skip this book entirely and read the rest of the series without missing much. While I can appreciate a more action-packed, dramatic end to THE BLACK MAGICIAN series, I can’t help but feel that Trudi Canavan missed an opportunity with The Novice.

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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:

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  1. “Most of what irked me about The Novice was a combination of a lack of action and extremely slow pacing.”

    This is what I felt about any Canavan book I’ve tried to read. I’m hoping Book Three of this series will adjust for that somewhat.

  2. Hmmm…that’s fair, I suppose. I didn’t really feel that way about book 1 – maybe that’s just cause I loved the themes in the book – but it’s definitely true of book 2. Book 3, I almost feel there’s too much action going on. The simplicity of Canavan’s works can be a strength, I feel, and with book 3 there’s just all this stuff happening all over the place that definitely should have been in book 2 instead; book 3 almost felt like two books forcibly crammed into one…

    • Maybe it’s just a matter of pacing. The books I tried were in the series that follows this one, I think. I guess she’s just not to my taste.

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