The Magician’s Apprentice: Not recommended

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Trudi Canavan The Magician's Apprentice prequelThe Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

The Magician’s Apprentice is the stand-alone prequel to Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy. It tells the story of young healer and magician apprentice Tessia who is caught up in the struggle between her native Kyralia and the Sachakan invaders who are trying to reestablish rule over their prior province.
I haven’t read the trilogy and am evaluating the book as the solo novel it is purported to be.

The first sentence of The Magician’s Apprentice reaches out and grabs your attention. Unfortunately, the story goes down hill from there. You join the story as Tessia is assisting her father in an amputation. She is in training to become a healer, but when her magical ability surfaces she is forced to give up her hopes of following in her father’s footsteps and is apprenticed to Lord Dakon. The plot meanders along without a real sense of urgency until the very end, by which point I was so irritated with the book that I didn’t care any more.

I was annoyed with the book for a number of reasons. First, Canavan manages to make the use of magic incredibly prosaic. There is no sense of wonder or fantasy in her writing, even though the main characters are all magicians. Her magic usage focuses on everyday purposes, such as preventing conception, or cleaning. And while the case could be made that in a world where magic existed it would be used for such purposes, the writing about the magic was boring. Shouldn’t reading about magic be, well, magical?

The mundane use of magic extended to warfare. Canavan treats her magicians as cannon fodder, having them stand in opposing lines firing bolts of power at each other until one sides’ shields fail. If the entire army consists of magicians, can’t you come up with a better idea than a quasi-medieval battle of two armies shooting magical arrows at each other? The system of magical warfare felt like a colossal failure of imagination.

Another major problem with the book is the heavy-handed political lessons that Canavan is trying to weave through her story. It felt like she was trying to force home a lesson about several radical political philosophies, such as “slavery is bad,” “capitalism is good,” “gays are human being,s” and “women should be treated as equals.” At one point the characters engage in a discussion that is a thinly veiled debate about the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. Canavan’s need to drive home a political message causes her to introduce a feminist subplot halfway through the book that is only tangentially related to the rest of the book and is completely unnecessary to the main storyline. The plot of The Magician’s Apprentice was secondary to the political message, which left the novel feeling like a thinly disguised political theory text book.

Maybe this book, and especially the feminist subplot, would have been more interesting and meaningful to someone who has enjoyed The Black Magician trilogy, but The Magician’s Apprentice will do nothing to draw in additional readers to Trudi Canavan’s fantasy world. The problems with pacing, flat characters, and overbearing political message left me wanting to quit half way through. I kept reading hoping it would get better, and while the pace improved, the manipulative plot techniques and overbearing lessons increased my irritation the longer I read. I cannot recommend The Magician’s Apprentice.

Black Magician — (2001-2009) Young adult. The Magician’s Apprentice is a prequel. Publisher: “We should expect this young woman to be more powerful than our average novice, possibly even more powerful than the average magician.” This year, like every other, the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city of undesirables. Cloaked in the protection of their sorcery, they move with no fear of the vagrants and miscreants who despise them and their work — until one enraged girl, barely more than a child, hurls a stone at the hated invaders… and effortlessly penetrates their magical shield. What the Magicians’ Guild has long dreaded has finally come to pass. There is someone outside their ranks who possesses a raw power beyond imagining, an untrained mage who must be found and schooled before she destroys herself and her city with a force she cannot yet control.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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