Monthly Archives: July 2015

Book Review – The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

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While ‘The High Lord’ is not my favourite of the trilogy, as the concluding part it is a brilliant book. There are times that I’m disappointed by the conclusion of a trilogy, but ‘The Black Magician’ trilogy ends superbly. The build-up of the sinister story behind the High Lord’s activities in ‘The Magicians’ Guild’ and ‘The Novice’ come to fruition in a spectacular fashion.

Canavan great skill in this trilogy is that she has built up over two books a character, The High Lord, who you really do not sympathise with in the slightest, until Canavan actually reveals his back story and the reasons for why he is doing everything he has been to Sonea and her friends. It is all very much to protect them from their own naivety about how safe their world really is from the dangers posed to them by Black Magic.

The way in which magic is treated by the author throughout the entire series is another one of the reason why I love the books so much. In Tolkien and Brooks, magic is quite a limiting power, and in some cases is not even considered to be magic by those that use it. In the ‘Fellowship of the Ring’, Galadriel is confused by Frodo referring to her powers as magic; to her it is simply just part of her existence. In Canavan’s world magic has connections to healing, science and to battle.

I first read the books as a teenager, and it was a much more diverse creation than I had ever encountered in fantasy before. It is still an inspiration for me as a writer now, and as a reader all the different ways in which magic is utilised is fascinating, especially the differences in social attitudes towards how magic is expected to be used by different social classes.

For Sonea, healing is the very best use of magic, as it is something that is actually beneficial for people. She also appreciates the way in which magic can be used to make stunning architecture. These types of magic are the ones that are utilised the most by the upper classes because they can afford to pay for it and expect the magician’s guild to be there at their beck and call. Making healing available for all though is something that Sonea is determined to see happen. Exploring the ways in magic can be beautiful and can be beneficial for all contrasts and compliments all the horrid ways in which magic can be used as well.

The problems and prejudices that Sonea faces throughout the books comes to a head in the third book, because everyone needs to band together in order to protect themselves from the threats that the High Lord had been trying to protect them from for years. The fact though that the High Lord and Sonea have been exiled from the Magician’s Guild only adds to the tension in the book, and Canavan’s masterful way of irritating the reader with stubborn characters who refuse to listen to reason is skilled. There is nothing more satisfying than the moments when you get to shout ‘I told you so’ at a book, and Trudi Canavan’s ‘The Black Magician’ series has plenty of those.

I couldn’t recommend them more, because they do provoke such strong emotional reactions in the reader, purely because you care about the characters she has created and can be lured so easily into her world that you can escape ours for a bit. There might be the odd uncomfortable topic found there that reflects the harsh reality of our world, but if a book is too sugar-coated you actually find you can’t believe it.

Book Review – The Novice by Trudi Canavan

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The second book of ‘The Black Magician’ trilogy by Trudi Canavan is by far my favourite of the three books in the series. I love all three of them, don’t get me wrong, but ‘The Novice’ falls into my top five favourite books of all time.

The book continues the story where ‘The Magician’s Guild’ left off, and the main character Sonea is now having to face the reality of training to become a magician in an environment of students that are openly hostile to her because she was born and raised in the slums of the city, rather than as one of the nobility. The plot of the story though isn’t what makes me love the book it is the character of Sonea that inspires me.

I was a teenage girl when I first read the book, and while I was raised to believe that I could do anything that wasn’t an attitude I had really encountered in fantasy fiction. I was raised reading J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Terry Brooks and there are not an over-abundance of strong female characters in their books. Most of the main protagonists are male. Sonea was one of the first fiction characters I came across that I could really relate to on a very personal level.

Sonea very much just wants to get on with her studies, but she has to cope with the prejudice she faces on, which eventually escalates to violent abuse. It stems from the pure and simple fact that her bullies are incredibly jealous of the treatment she gets and the amount of magical power that Sonea is able to wield. Even after she becomes the Novice of the High Lord (the Black Magician that inspired the name of the trilogy), a privilege that should have stopped the abuse, the moment they realise she won’t go to him for help the abuse towards her just escalates.

Now, admittedly what I have just described there doesn’t sound particularly pleasant to have to read, and quite frankly if you are looking for a light read, then don’t read Canavan, because she doesn’t shirk away from uncomfortable topics. Sonea is trapped between a rock and a hard place, because while she could seek help, she would have to do so from someone who she hates and distrusts more than the average magician. You see the High Lord is not all that he seems; there are mysteries surrounding him, which are explored in the final book. She is essentially being held captive by the High Lord as the pawn in a blackmailing scheme so he can keep his secrets.

And at no point, throughout the entire book does Sonea give up. She remains strong, focused on her goal of becoming a Healer. One of the gender themes explored in the books are the various roles that male and female magicians end up specialising in. Becoming a Healer is very much a role women are more inclined towards, and Sonea is no different, but is very much because she views that sort of use of magic as something that is actually beneficial.

Becoming a warrior though is something she is genuinely not interested in becoming and it is stated that women are actively discouraged from doing it. Sonea though has very legitimate reasons, i.e. first-hand experience of how dangerous magic can be that discourages her from pursuing those topics.   However, the High Lord pushes her to improve her Warrior marks, and in this book the High Lord’s one redeeming feature is that at no point does he believe that she can’t do it simply because she was a woman. While the message is buried in there quite deep, the idea that women are no different than meant a great deal to me as a teenager, and even more to me now as a grown woman.

What is also just as important to me now is that Canavan as much as she doesn’t shirk away from gender themes in her books, she also doesn’t shirk away from sexuality either. ‘The Novice’ explores the wider world created by Canavan in a way that ‘The Magician’s Guild’ just isn’t able to do within the scope of that book. One of the main characters from the first book Dannyl is sent out into the wider world as an Ambassador of the Guild and explores the other cultures that make up the Allied Nations. The prominent theme within this particular story line, beyond the fascination of looking at the different fictional cultures, is the way in which male homosexuality is viewed, accepted or in some cases violently rejected.

While I didn’t connect to those ideas as much as I did to Sonea when I was growing up, being a great deal less naïve now than I was then, having those sorts of questions asked in a work of fiction is vitally important and just another reason why I love the book.

Book Review – The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan

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It must be well over a decade since I first read Trudi Canavan’s ‘The Black Magician’ trilogy, but it still captivates my imagination. I can remember it being one of the first fantasy books I saw in a bookshop and I thought ‘You know what I’ll give that a try’.I have never once regretted that decision. I’d only brought the first book but within less than a week I was back at the bookshop so I could buy the next two. Be warned they are addictive reading.

The Magician’s Guild is the ideal introduction to Canavan’s world of magic, set in the city of Imardin. It was one of the first of a wave of stories that emerged in the fantasy section of bookshops, about a girl who lives in poverty rising to the higher social status because of magic and learning that the world she lives in is not as safe and secure as she imagined.

Sonea is one of the best characters that I have ever got to know, and I love revisiting her story. She is strong female character, who is very practically more like a boy than a girl simply because in the world she lives in it is safer to be a boy. There are quite a few themes within the books as a whole exploring gender roles in Canavan’s writing, but one of the most important things I also took from her books is that female characters deserve a choice and Sonea is very adamant in making her own choices and not being pushed about. Being a young teenage girl that was very important, and the themes of the second novel, ‘The Novice’, explores this even further.

But is isn’t just the themes of gender that are explores that attracts me back to the books. How Canavan weaves the conflicts between the various characters is beautiful, and those conflicts are based on social class and to an extent gender as well. But what makes the book brilliant is that while Sonea is the main protagonist, you don’t just see the story from just her perspective. The viewpoint changes between her and various other characters based in the city’s underworld and the within the Magician’s Guild.

The story itself is very much about mistrust and revenge, but equally while it is about conflicts between different social classes it is also about conflict between people of the same class. Sonea has been raised to distrust magicians. Her internal conflicts about finding out that she has to be one now mixes very well with the antagonist’s plans to ensure that no-one of the lower classes ever become magicians. Canavan weaves the misunderstandings between the characters have with each other, leaving the reader in hopeful anticipation that everything will be resolved, and on tenterhooks that it might not be.

Notes on Life – No. 22 : Depression

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I re-read an old post of mine recently Depression – Life through a Noir Filter and I was trying to decide whether it was worse being on a downward spiral and not realising what was wrong, or whether it was worst being aware that your were heading that way.

Having experienced both I came to the conclusion just being on a downward spiral is bad enough; self awareness of the fact doesn’t change how awful depression can be.