In the remote village of Mandryn, Tessia serves as assistant to her father, the village Healer. Despite knowing that women aren’t readily accepted by the Guild of Healers, Tessia is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps. But her life is about to take an unexpected turn.
When treating a patient at the residence of the local magician, Lord Dakon, Tessia fights off the advances of a visiting Sachakan mage – and instinctively uses magic. She now finds herself facing an entirely different future as Lord Dakon’s apprentice.
It is a position of great privilege, but Tessia is about to discover that her magical gifts also bring with them a heavy responsibility. For events are brewing that will lead nations into war and rival magicians into conflict – and spark an act of sorcery so brutal that its effects will be felt for centuries…
Written after The Black Magician trilogy, The Magician’s Apprentice is a prequel of sorts to said series. As a step back into history, it is a very cool story, showing us events in the past that set things in motion that will not only feature in The Black Magician trilogy, but also in The Traitor Spy trilogy. To my surprise, however, the book dealt with a different era than I expected for some reason. Why, I don’t know, but I expected the book to either deal with Akkarin’s history, or the period in time when black magic became forbidden by the Guild. Instead, we get the story of the Sachakan war and why the Allied countries become allied against it. I truly enjoyed the story and while this book is the biggest of the Kyralia books so far, I couldn’t put it down and blitzed through it in four days.
We get five separate points of view in this book: Tessia, the titular apprentice, Dakon, her master, Jayen, Dakon’s other apprentice, Stara, a Sachakan woman, and Hanara, a Source slave for one of the Sachakan High Mages. Canavan uses these PoV’s cleverly to shed light on all sides of the conflict. We’re not only given insight into both the Kyralian and the Sachakan sides, but we also get different viewpoints within these camps, from different power levels. I found this an interesting approach and while I definitely had some favourite viewpoints, none of them had me reading along impatiently to get past it to a new one.
My favourite viewpoints were Tessia and Stara. Tessia is the main character of the book and very likeable. She’s a conscientious young woman, with a passion for healing that, due to the prejudices of Kyralian society, she won’t be able to pursue professionally, as women Healers aren’t accepted by the Guild. Still, she doesn’t give up and keeps looking for a way to use her knowledge and skills to Heal, even once she is apprenticed to Dakon as a magician. She shows spirit throughout the novel, but still manages to grow (up) as a character during the narrative. What made Tessia’s story even more interesting, was the fact that here we see the genesis of Healing magic. Tessia literally discovers it as we read along and it is very interesting to see how much of it is derived from knowledge of black magic. If the magicians of Sonea’s time had known this, they would have shuddered in revulsion!
My other favourite point of view and character was Stara. She’s our window into Sachakan culture. Being half-Sachakan herself and mainly raised in the liberal country of Elyne, Stara is as alienated by the conservative and repressive Sachakan society as the reader. We’re shown how this society could produce rebels such as the Ichani, who are considered without honour, and how the Ichani aren’t the only rebels in Sachaka. Stara’s story is also a nice set up for The Traitor Spy trilogy, even though I didn’t realise this until I started that series. Stara is a strong female character, who doesn’t let herself be broken to the Sachakan view of what is proper for a woman. I enjoyed how much her upbringing in Elyne coloured her perception of Sachaka and how she is shown that not all is how it seems, both by her brother and her slave/confidante Vora. Her relationships with Vora and the wives of her husband’s friends are key to her story’s ending and I found the different dynamics between the women (and their husbands) very interesting. They all have marital problems, but none of them have the same kind of problem. Still they form a tight-knit circle and support each other how and where they can. In Tessia and her female friends and Stara and her circle of friends Canavan creates a strong example of female strength and empowerment, through their sheer determination not to be put in the places society, whether Kyralian or Sachakan, deems fit for them.
In addition to a deeper understanding of the history of Kyrelia and its world, in The Magician’s Apprentice, Canavan gives us a gripping tale of war and adventure. I really enjoyed this book, both as a prequel to the previous trilogy and as a standalone story. It isn’t necessary to have read The Black Magician trilogy before this one, however, there are so many clues for The Traitor Spy trilogy (or at least book one, The Ambassador’s Mission) that I’d recommend reading this one before starting that series at least. If you haven’t read any Canavan before and you don’t want to commit to a full trilogy, The Magician’s Apprentice is an excellent way to get yourself acquainted with this author. If you have read her work before – and enjoyed it – then this novel should be a welcome return to the world of Kyrelia and the Magicians’ Guild.