A rather poor prequel that doesn’t compete with ’The Black Magician Trilogy’ at all
The Magician’s Apprentice tells the story of the Sachakan War 700 years before the trilogy about Akkarin, Sonea, Rothen, Dannyl and the other magicians we learned to love. It tells of a time, when there still was no Guild and higher magic was commonly used by magicians.
After The High Lord I’ve decided to never read another book from Trudi Canavan. However, I picked up this one for two reasons concerning my fanfiction project: Learning more about the Sachakan War and the Sachakan culture.
The story begins in a little town in northeast Kyralia where young Tessia unleashes her magic on accident when she is hassled by a Sachakan magician. Lord Dakon, the local magician, takes her as apprentice and teaches her magic to the dismay of his other apprentice Jayan who is close to being inducted into the secret of higher magic. During a trip to Imardin where they meet with other magicians, their village is destroyed by Sachakans and Tessia’s family is killed. Lord Dakon decides to unite the magicians and hunts the Sachakans across Kyralia until a final battle at the gates of Imardin.
But the story doesn’t end here. Afterwards, the Kyralian magicians enter Sachaka. On their way to the capital Arvice they plunder and destroy the homes of Sachakan magicians who weren’t involved into the attack and finally seize the city.
I have to admit that I didn’t expect much of the book after I heard that it couldn’t compete with the trilogy. But I was appalled how bad it was. I will discuss those issues in the following.
When you don’t write new characters but copy those from your previous work, this isn’t only bad style. This is incompetence. I’m sorry to say so, but three of five main characters were poor copies of characters from The Black Magician Trilogy. It was infuriating.
Take Tessia. She’s an awful copy of Sonea. Both are of the same age, both are lowborn, both unleash their magic on their own, both want to become a healer. They’re even equal in personality. Reading her just felt like reading Sonea in an AU fanfic. Compared to the other characters, Tessia experiences quite a great deal of character growth when losing her parents and having to join an army because her master is going to fight. It was hard to dislike her since I love Sonea, but it was also disappointing to read a main character with such striking similarity to my heroine from Black Magician. However, compared to Sonea, her character was pretty bland. That she is the very person who invents healing with magic felt forced.
Jayan is a copy of Regin, though far less nasty. Though this is refreshing after having suffered Regins antics in The Novice, it also withdraws potential conflict from the story. However, it would have been worse, if Canavan had repeated all the harassment in this book. Instead, his relation to Tessia read like it could have been between Sonea and Regin. At least until they fell in love. Due to their models in Black Magician that was the part which made me heartily sick about the book.
Dakon is like a younger Rothen and the moral backbone of the other characters. And like Rothen he doesn’t evolve. Though I liked that about him especially when the other magicians started to behave like animals, he was too close to his Black Magician template, too.
The other two POV characters had a lesser share of the story, which was at least a pity in one case: Hanara, a young Sachakan who introduces the reader into the live of slaves. Born a slave, he struggles with his freedom and, finally, returns to his master. I cannot blame this on his character because he acts consistent with his personal background, but I blame it on Dakon that he left Hanara behind when travelling to Imardin with his apprentices. I would have expected of a man like Dakon to teach Hanara how to use his freedom or even teach him magic. Like in Black Magician this feels as if logic and characters are bent to the story, meaning that Canavan needed a narrator on the enemies’ side and that Hanara was the most likely choice. With that Hanara deteriorates into an observational character who doesn’t contribute anything to the story.
Then we have Stara, a young woman half Elyne / half Sachakan. She’s introduced in the second half of the book when travelling to Arvice where she is supposed to marry a magician her Sachakan father has chosen for her. Though rebellious, Stara has no choice but to give in. Later, Stara meets a group of women who teach her higher magic and who call themselves the ’traitors’. Stara’s plot has no connection to the main plot except close to the end when she almost kills Jayan. This inflicts the impression that Canavan invented her only to introduce the traitors for her sequel trilogy. For the actual plot of the book Stara’s part was pretty pointless and I was disappointed of the lack of conjunction between Stara’s storyline and the stories of Tessia, Dakon and Jayan. I was unable to connect to Stara, she felt cold am impassive to me and not that amiably written as I’m used to from the trilogy. The only thing I liked about her was that she provided a profound insight in Sachakan culture.
There was a lot of potential in the basic design of those five characters but Canavan made only poor use of it. Some resembled too much their templates from Black Magician while behind others was a great intention which Canavan barely made use of. After she has already written a trilogy, I would have expected an improvement in this regard.
The writing style
While jolty during Black Magician, Canavan’s writing has improved. I liked especially how she introduces new scenes and chapters with short, but atmospheric paragraphs. It makes me understand why her books are hyped by so many people. An amazing writing style makes it easy to ignore all the flaws.
Inconsistencies in regard to Black Magician
In The Magician’s Guild we learn that Imardin was destroyed during the war and that the Sachakans poisoned the spring which is why the Guild grounds encompass Sarika’s hill. In The High Lord we learn that the Guild has made a wasteland of Sachaka on purpose to prevent that the Sachakan magicians ever rise again.
It appears as if Canavan wasn’t able to research her own books. With a little good will those discrepancies could have been explained with the fact that the Guild has rewritten all records after higher magic was banned. But why invent a destruction of a city which has never happened? And how could the wasteland grow that much? Why keep the information that the Kyralian magicians left Sachaka on its own after a few years of occupation?
Some of this information we get from Akkarin who was in possession of the genuine records and yet The Magician’s Apprentice tells us otherwise. Since the Sachakan War was one of my main reason to read the book, Canavan’s sloppiness here was infuriating.
More critical issues
Besides the characters I couldn’t really relate to, the overall story was told carelessly and had more of a chaotic concatenation of events than the comparably complex plot from the trilogy. The same observation I was told from other people who first read the trilogy while people who started with The Magician’s Apprentice have a better opinion of the book.
The ending was a typical Canavan. Poorly constructed and somewhat confused. In this regard it was even worse than The High Lord. I was disappointed that Dakon did just vanish from the plot and was killed in a half sentence as we are told in the epilogue. Also, Narvelan’s insanity changed all of a sudden from barely tangible to destructive. Especially after what we learn from Akkarin about the wasteland I would have expected a smarter solution.
The war wasn’t really a war following certain stratagems but a random procession of armies pursuing each other and I resented how the Kyralian magicians behaved in their campaign through Sachaka. Maybe Canavan’s intention was a political statement to modern warfare but it was wasted on me. It doesn’t really befit the founders of the Guild.
Most infuriating Canavan’s obvious attempt to repair the damage she did in The High Lord. When Jayan is deadly wounded, Tessia saves his life by healing him with magic and they become a couple. From then on I read the remaining pages with heavy nausea and defiance of death because 1) of course she finds out how to heal with magic exactly when her love interest is dying. 2) she does what I would have expected of Sonea when Akkarin was dying (see also my review of The High Lord. 3) Jayan is nothing but a nicer version of Regin but doesn’t match Akkarin at all. 4) It filled me with bad foreboding of Canavan’s intentions for the sequel trilogy.
What I liked:
After ranting so much, I feel obliged to list some things I liked about The Magician’s Apprentice. Though the book wasn’t good, not everything was bad. The Sachakan culture was one of those aspects and in this regard my expectations were quite satisfied though I feel there could have been more worldbuilding. And we learn a little of how the Guild has formed. However, it was too briefly dealt with given that this is a prequel.
Also, I was most fascinated by how the characters practice higher magic. It was much more intense than in the trilogy and I find the principle and the intimacy between source and master quite appealing. It requires extraordinarily trust and devotion.
The Magician’s Apprentice is a prequel which stays far behind The Black Magician Trilogy in complexity, storytelling, tension and character design. It answers some questions, but leaves too many unanswered. It seems as if Canavan has failed to keep up the standards from her first trilogy and The Magician’s Apprentice makes me even less inclined to try another one of her books after the ending of The Black Magician killed that desire.
I give one star of five because there was so much wrong with this book that I couldn’t make myself like it.