The Novice is the second installment of Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy full with new storylines and conflicts. While The Magicians’ Guild has done rather preparatory work, The Novice makes the next step in revealing the trilogy’s core.
Sonea has started her studies on magic at the Guild’s university. From the first day she is exposed to the hostility of her classmates lead by the evil-natured boy Regin. When her situation has finally improved a little, High Lord Akkarin claims her guardianship to keep her and Rothen silent about his black magic actions. From there, her situations grows even worse and she has to find a way to deal with Regin once and for all.
Meanwhile, Dannyl is assigned to Elyne in the role of second Guild Ambassador. Barely arrived, he starts snooping around in Akkarin’s past together with the scholar Tayend as ordered by Guild Administrator Lorlen. When Dannyl is ordered to stop, he continues his research in private.
In a parallel story-arc Lorlen investigates a strange murder series going on in the city because he suspects Akkarin being responsible for the deaths, while losing his trust in his friend. When Akkarin finds out, that he, Rothen and Sonea have discovered his dark secret he ensures Lorlen’s silence by controlling him with a black magic item.
Again, the story is told from the perspective of four different characters with almost equal share of the plot. Cery is replaced by Lorlen, who provides a deeper insight into Akkarin’s character and his mysteries. While shamefully neglected in book one, the High Lord now turns out to be the pivotal character of the trilogy. However, given the title “The Black Magician Trilogy” this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When I first read The Novice I wasn’t sure whether Akkarin is the true antagonist until the epilogue though his overall behaviour casts doubts on this assumption. However, he is a very complex and interesting character.
The characters are still easy to like though I must admit that I struggled to bond with Lorlen. I will come back to that point in detail later. Compared to book one, Dannyl looses some of his cheerfulness but that’s befitting his ambassadorial duties and the power distribution in his dynamical relationship to Tayend. Though I enjoyed reading Dannyl a little less than in The Magicians’ Guild, there was a lot of complexity added to his character which was only hinted at before. Dannyl’s evolution and his dynamics with Tayend quickly cured me from missing his cheerful conversations with Rothen. Also, Sonea experiences a character growth though, given her stubbornness, it takes some time while Rothen and Lorlen, disappointingly, stay flat.
Like in The Magicians’ Guild Sonea is the character I could identify myself with most. It’s almost impossible not to suffer with her when she is left to the mercy of her classmates and becomes Akkarin’s hostage. Though she doesn’t always act rationally, this is exactly what makes her feel so real and so easy to connect to her. Most of the book she is a victim and thus she acts like this quite convincing.
While The Magician’s Guild puts most emphasis on social injustice, overcoming prejudices and learning to trust, The Novice concentrates on mobbing. Sonea’s mortal enemy Regin is even worse than Sonea’s mortal enemy Regin is even worse than Draco Malfoy who is rather a rival to Harry Potter while Regin doesn’t care whether his harassment could do severe harm.
Malfoy who is rather a rival to Harry Potter while Regin doesn’t care whether his harassment could do severe harm. This story-arc is a well-worn cliché but given Sonea’s background it’s also a consequential one and one that is barely to avoid after Sonea has joined the Guild and experiences disdain from both her teachers and classmates.
Another though very gingerly introduced topic is homosexuality and coming out. Canavan takes much time to develop the relationship between Dannyl and Tayend and I found Dannyl’s struggle with his feelings nothing but plausible. However, in my opinion she shouldn’t have left so much to innuendos because they are hardly to grasp for younger readers.
Compared to book one there are more, and more prominent lengths:
Most of Dannyl’s journey through the Allied Lands is lengthy and for me Canavan couldn’t make it up with little adventures and worldbuilding, humorous dialogues or creating tension with respect to the overall background plot like my favourite authors do. Without any clue about the developing relationship of Dannyl and Tayend this was one of the most boring parts of the book, especially since Dannyl’s research does reveal nothing useful about Akkarin’s past and the reader will only learn more in book three. Knowing about Dannyl and Tayend, I now can at least enjoy their chapters with regard to their relationship. Apart from that, Dannyl’s story-arc in this book is pretty pointless and gives the impression that Canavan only chases him across the Allied Lands for reasons of romance.
The novices’ harassment of Sonea wasn’t particularly exciting either and total cliché and reminded me of a combination of High School films and the Karate Kid trope. Regin was written flat and uninspired and his encounters with Sonea were a mere sequence of atrocities. Canavan could have added more complexity to the plot by bringing them into situations where they would have been forced to do something together. Like an alchemy project. The abundance of the harassment scenes, though the necessity has its justification for Sonea’s story-arc, rather made me sick. Knowing about the unspeakable sequel trilogy (I refuse to read them but I was told about the content many times) it makes me want to throw up whenever I read Sonea’s and Regin’s encounters in The Novice.
Lorlen’s investigation of the murders wasn’t pretty exciting either. Especially, since it leads to nowhere like Dannyl’s research, too. Once again, the reason will be revealed in the third installment but this doesn’t help to improve this particular part of the plot.
Those lengths reveal another problem of the story: Both Lorlen’s and Dannyl’s investigations are barely connected to the overall plot of the book and appear to be pointless. They only get a meaning by reading The High Lord. When regarding solely the plot of The Novice, this is bad writing. Given that there’s a sequel, it’s also bad outlining. If I hadn’t already been besotted with Akkarin at that point I would have put the books down because of lacking coherence. Please don’t mistake me. I’m fine with that the meaning reveals itself in book three and I love speculation, but I would have wished for stronger hints that there will be some connection in the last book. It would have fuelled my speculations rather than tiring them. I wasn’t able to feel a motivation behind them like I feel when e.g. reading the Mistborn series. Compared to book one where all storylines are connected it felt uninspired and not thought out.
Another issue which also seems quite symptomatical for Canavan is that she bends characters for the story’s sake, making them off-character. It’s fine to act against common sense if required of the situation. For instance, when Regin harasses Sonea she doesn’t strike back as any normal person would do it’s because she’s caught in her role as a victim. But if you were best friends with someone all your life, you would at least doubt that your friend is evil after learning his dark secret. You would reflect your friendship and your friend’s behaviour. You would maybe regret trusting him. But what kind of friend immediately starts to do everything in his powers to stop him?
Lorlen does act like this. Would he have been designed more thoroughly, his character would have added great potential to the story and his relationship to Akkarin. Instead, he only acts so that the reader is convinced of Akkarin’s evil nature. Later, when Akkarin promises to explain himself, Lorlen starts to trust him again turning the reader to the possibility that Akkarin isn’t entirely evil. So, Lorlen’s trust returns just by a promise? That’s silly.
I understand that knowing Akkarin’s secret has frightened his wits out of Lorlen. But since this revelation half a year has passed. Explaining his behaviour with “When I learned about your secret I realised that I didn’t know you at all” is a very poor explanation for so many years of trust and friendship. What about all the time they spent together, how close they were? Lorlen has had plenty of time to come to his senses and to consider all facts as I would expect of a man of his smarts and sensibility, but he doesn’t.
The friendship between the two most powerful guild members could have been so much more. Instead, Lorlen is the shittiest friend fiction has ever brought forth (at least given the books that I have read). For me, this is the most disappointing issue of the book because here and there we get glimpses of how his relation to Akkarin would have been if Canavan had implemented Lorlen’s character reasonably. Making Lorlen a narrative character in book one also might have helped here. I’m sure, Canavan could have come up with a few encounters in which Akkarin behaves mysterious and with which the revelation during the guardianship hearing wouldn’t have come all out of a sudden.
Though there is more worldbuilding, more magic, more conflict and more revelations and hints on the background story, The Novice lacks of pace and an exciting implementation of conflict but has numerous lengths and uninspired character implementations and story-arcs instead. Some characters evolve while others stay flat or a poorly written like Lorlen, which I found particularly disappointing due to his connection to Akkarin. Also, Lorlen’s and Dannyl’s story-arcs (the murders and the travelling) are pretty pointless and don’t come to a satisfying conclusion. Though it makes sense that their meaning can only be revealed in book three, I would have at least expected some sort of climax as we have in the epilogue, or stronger hints triggering speculation. Actually, I enjoyed the second part of the book more than the first, because here the pace improves and I love the passages with Akkarin’s appearances, especially concerning Sonea. I’m not sure how much I would like the series, if it wasn’t for Akkarin and the fact that I’ve never identified myself so much with a fictional character like Sonea. They provide an emotional component which make me love the books despite their numerous flaws. Thus, I give 3 of 5 stars.