Trudi Canavan – The Magicians’ Guild

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 Magician’s 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.

I’d read The Magicians’ Guild and the other two in the trilogy several years ago, but when I picked up The Magician’s Apprentice and The Ambassador’s Mission for Christmas, in addition to still having to read the conclusion of the unrelated series of Age of the Five, I decided I’d do a full Canavan reread, starting with all the books set in the Kyralia universe and ending on her more adult oriented Age of the Five books. So in the coming weeks, expect to see weekly Canavan reviews, with a short break once B2 arrives.

Fantasy ‘rags to riches’-stories are one of my guilty genre pleasures. It’s a classic trope, much abused, but when it is done right it’s downright magical and timeless. I’ve read many of these humble origins to great destiny stories – I bet most of us have as they are often described as traditional fantasy stories – prime examples are of course David Eddings’ Belgariad, Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, and many of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels are also based on this trope. More recent examples are Patrick Rothfuss’ Kvothe and Peter V. Brett’s Arlen. Trudi Canavan’s Sonea, the protagonist of The Magicians’ Guild, is another such. And her story does justice to one of my favourite tropes.

Since it is a classic trope and the setting is very familiar – school setting, check, a slum child protagonist, check, having to endure adversity to get to a place of safety, check – it’s in the details Canavan needs to find her originality. And this she certainly does with aplomb. First of all, there is no prophesy in this story. Sonea isn’t a long awaited saviour that will make the land safe from a huge threat. No, she’s rather the long feared complication most of the Guild doesn’t want to deal with. Add to this Sonea’s reluctance to escape her hard life in the slums and her wish to return to her family, instead of joining the Guild and living a life of comfort, and we have a rather unenthusiastic leading lady when it comes to the riches. Canavan doesn’t just focus on Sonea and the Guild though; much of the book is given to Cery, Sonea’s childhood friend, who has feelings that go a little ways beyond friendship and who does all he can to hide her from the Guild, including getting roped in as a minor operative for the Thieves, the guild who rule Imardin’s underworld.

In Kyralia, even if for this book the focus lies mainly on Imardin, Canavan creates an interesting world. She provides snippets of history, through the books Sonea reads and the lessons she’s given, but also vividly draws us a picture of what contemporary Imardin life looks like, though owing to our protagonists, this is largely limited to how the lower half of the population lives and to the life inside the Guild. What I really enjoyed, is how we often get views on historical events from two sides. For example, early on in the book we see how the slum dwellers see the Purge and what motivations they ascribe to the king and the magicians for keeping the yearly Purges up. Later on in the book, Rothen tells Sonea why the Purge started and why it has been kept up from the magicians’ (and presumably the king’s) point of view. This gives a well-roundedness to Canavan’s history building and lets the reader make up her own mind as to who to believe.

The characters are lovely, even if they’re evil. Sonea is your typical self-aware teenage slum girl you’d expect her to be, but what I liked about her is that she isn’t perfect. She is genuinely frightened, by her unexpectedly budding powers, by the Guild and by the prospect of being, for all intents and purposes, the Thieves’ magic slave. Despite being afraid however, Sonea keeps thinking and tries to make the best decisions, even if they are difficult ones. Her best friend Cery, is similarly street-smart and I loved his sense of loyalty to his friends, but Sonea in particular. He wants the best for her and the way he realises that what is the best for her, might not be what he wants and his decision to put her in front of his own desires, makes him all the more awesome in my eyes. Of the magicians my favourites were Dannyl and Lorlen. Dannyl because I loved his honesty and his very human responses to what is happening around and to him and Lorlen, because he defies the stereotype of the second-in-command. Too often, the guy that is second-in-command, in Lorlen’s case he’s the Administrator, is really a power hungry, manipulative politicker. Lorlen isn’t, he seems to be a genuinely good guy, who wants to do his job as well as he can and I found him very likeable. Sonea’s mentor, Rothen, is cool too, but he is an expected character; he’s the wise, older – in this case father- – figure, that helps settle our out-of-their-depth bumpkin into his or her new life. While Rothen is well-written and most definitely very likeable, he is somewhat of a stereotypical character. The same can be said of Lord Fergun; he is the necessary despicable adversary that makes life difficult for Sonea and wants her out of the Guild. Again, Fergun is well-written and his motivations are interesting and go beyond revenge on the dwell who knocked him out, but he is still a bit of a stereotype.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Magicians’ Guild and how easily it kept me turning pages. I was even somewhat frustrated that I couldn’t start on the next book immediately, but need to spread them out to avoid glutting my blog with only Canavan reviews for the next three weeks! The Magicians’ Guild is a great read for a younger set of readers and I believe a good introduction to the genre. But it is also an entertaining read for those of us who just like this type of story done well.

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