When Auraya was chosen to become a priestess, she could never have believed that a mere ten years later she would be one of the White, the gods’ most powerful servants.
Sadly, Auraya has little time to adapt to the exceptional powers gifted her by the gods. Mysterious black-clad sorcerers from the south plague the land, and rumours reach the White of an army being raised. Auraya and her new colleagues work tirelessly to seal alliances and unite the northern continent under their banner, but time is running out.
War comes to the lands of the White, and unless Auraya can master her new abilities, even the favour of the gods may not be enough to save them…
The Age of the Five trilogy is the second series by Trudi Canavan, published after her Black Magician trilogy and set in a new universe and geared to a more mature audience. Where the Black Magician trilogy is more about magic, politics, class differences and the resulting trouble, the Age of the Five is focused on religion and the effects of opposing or differing belief systems. Priestess of the White, the first book in this series, is also much more adult in tone and content. Admittedly, there was sex in the Black Magician, but it was of the fade to black variety. While the same can be said for the scenes in Age of the Five, the language and feeling behind them is more adult than in Canavan’s debut trilogy. In addition, the main character, Auraya, is about ten years older than Sonea, so her journey is less one of self-discovery and more about defending her chosen belief system.
I liked the setting, though it is a familiar one. As with her take on a magic school in The Magicians’ Guild, the world of the Age of the Five is filled with classic tropes and it’s Canavan’s spin on the details that have to make Priestess of the White stand out. While I’m not sure whether world building-wise Canavan succeeds in this, there is enough there to keep it interesting. Particularly engaging were the set up of the Circlian religion and the country and people of Si, both of which kept my attention, especially Si and the Siyee. In fact I was having a hard time getting into the book, until Auraya went to the land of Si, then suddenly I found myself reading far faster and longer than before. The Siyee are a mountain-dwelling people created by Huan, of the five Circlian gods, who gave them the gift of flight, but at the price of their strength and size. I loved their culture and the fact that there had to be trade-offs for them to gain flight. But these trade-offs have made them vulnerable and easily pushed aside by Toren settlers who want to farm their fertile valleys, causing them to retreat up the mountains and becoming more insular. I liked how they are drawn out of this isolation by a promise of alliance with the White and how this alliance changes their future and people or at least contributes to the rapidity of the changes.
The six main points of view we get, are all either Circlian or Dreamweaver/unaffiliated, there are no points of view from the enemy black-clad Pentadrians, which makes the latter even more scary and mysterious. Auraya, our main character is a likeable young woman, who is believable in her feelings at being chosen the fifth representative of the Gods. Neither terribly insecure, nor overly prideful at being chosen, she is surprised and awed at her elevation and she does have pangs of doubt whether she’s making the right choices in her new position, mostly regarding her – not completely suitable – love interest. However much I liked Auraya though, my favourite characters are Tryss, the young Siyee inventor and Emerahl, the ancient sorceress; I loved their opposing viewpoints. To Tryss, who is very young, the world is his oyster and he’s almost naively optimistic and curious about the world and how it works. I love how he doesn’t think in problems, but in solutions and as such thinks in a way that is unique to the Siyee and results in things like his hunting harness, which not only allows the Siyee to hunt bigger game, but also to fight the settlers that are taking away their land. Emerahl, on the other hand, is ancient and has seen it all. As such, she is a little jaded and, at times, cynical and comes across as if she’s already seen it all, without having totally lost her humanity. I loved the contrast between these two and the way that both of them grow and change throughout this book. Tryss becomes more world wise and loses some of his innocence, while Emerahl reconnects to the world and finds that there are things out there she hadn’t expected there to be.
While I enjoyed Priestess of the White quite a lot, it also took me quite a while to get through it. Partly this was due to sleep deprivation – night feedings are not conducive to feeling well-rested – and feeling under the weather, but mostly it was because it was only after about a third of the book that the story finally fully drew me in. This might be due to the fact that this was a reread and I was waiting to get to the parts that I remembered really liking, but I think it is also due to the fact that there is a lot of groundwork to be laid in that first third before the story can really get going. I guess I’ll find out how much it being a reread influenced the story being slow to draw me in, as the second book in the trilogy, Last of the Wilds, will also be a reread for me. However it may be, I’m glad I persisted, because once it gets going the story really is very enjoyable and I flew through it. If you like Canavan’s Kyralian works, you’ll be bound to like Priestess in White. If you found the Kyralian works a little too YA in feeling, please give this book a try, as it shows the author writing for a more mature audience and it’s definitely a different reading experience from her earlier books.