I’ve review Canavan’s work before, looking at ‘The Magician’ Guild, ‘The Novice‘ and the ‘The High Lord‘; I don’t hold back that these books are by far some of my all times favourites. Needless to say that I was very excited to learn that after several years away from Sonea’s world of magic that Canavan had returned, this time with a prequel set centuries before the events of the ‘Black Magician’ Trilogy. Probably because of that excitement you could probably guess how disappointed I was when I first read the book and I absolutely hated it.
I honestly don’t hate books very often, but the first time I read the book I was bored, uncomfortable, annoyed with the characters, especially the minor characters that seemed to be very one-dimensional and acting in certain ways only to make the plot work rather than as I would expected them to act according to the parameters of their character profile that they had been introduced with. The plot itself was well developed over the vast majority of the book and then seemed incredibly rushed at the end, again using characters acting out of character without proper explanation to make the story. What didn’t help was that halfway through the book a secondary story line was introduced from a new perspective, which just wasn’t as interesting as the first and for the vast majority of the book seemed out of sync. Even at the end it felt more like a set up for a different book rather than as part of the purpose of ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’.
Needless to say it ended up on a shelf and I ignored it because of extreme disappointment and even anger that it had all gone so wrong. I did however recommend the original trilogy to my partner, who like me loved the books. Without really consulting me, he read the prequel as well. I held my tongue, but was deeply surprised when he said he was really enjoying it. Once he finished he admitted that yes the ending had been a bit rushed and that the secondary storyline did feel a bit out of place, but that on the whole it was an incredibly good book. Trusting his judgement I read it again.
The book was originally published in 2009, just after I had finished my first undergraduate degree, and let’s put it this way I was still naive enough to think that the world is generally an all right place to be a part of and that having a degree was all I needed in order to get a job. [Pause now for a long you require in order to laugh]
Needlessly to say over half a decade later, a Master’s degree later, numerous failed attempts at getting a Graduate job later and a great deal of realising that being lucky and being in the right place at the right time is more what this world is a about, means I’m not as naive. The other massive difference was that I have since discovered (and I mean discovered quite genuinely) Feminism. I have always believed in equality, but I’d never identified as a Feminist, and in truth a lot of the themes in the Magician’s Apprentice were especially uncomfortable for someone as a naive as I was to actually read.
The main character, Tessia has to put up with experiencing attempted rape; with awful and quite horrific death; treating women who in war are rape victims and toys to be played with by men who think them second class citizens; and the overarching patriarchy construct that women are not expected to be healers and doctors, but only, and I mean ONLY are supposed to marry young, get pregnant and risk dying labour in order to produce the next generation.
In the secondary storyline, the treatment of women is even worse, as daughters and wives are confined away by their fathers and husbands, treated little better than as slaves and are even denied access to becoming magicians, because it would give them a measure of power than men couldn’t tolerate.
And all of this is done with the consent and even the help of other women. All Tessia’s mother is concerned with is her daughter getting married and having babies. Even after Tessia becomes a magician, her mother has the aim of trying to get her to attract the interest of her mentor who happens to be a single man of high rank and fortune, who to quote Austen, ‘Must be in want of a wife’.
The book still has a few plotting problems near the end, and I don’t agree with how some of the characters turn out, and the secondary storyline is still very much there to as a set up for another story, but the book is in truth utterly brilliant, because it doesn’t for a second second shy away from women’s issues that do need to be addressed. The book made me deeply uncomfortable to read the first time, because I know the person I once was; I ignored things that I didn’t think would happen to me and I was far too idealistic. What can I say I was young.
Strangely enough though the book must have had more of an impact on me that I had realised, because it was always on the back of my mind when I was developing my own works of fiction, which does address these themes. And this was before I educated myself with Feminism. For a book to have such an impact, even on the most naive of people, it cannot be anything other than superb.