Category Archives: canavan

Essay: My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan

Standard

I’ve been thinking a great deal in recent months about what it means to be a fan; bear with me, I think a lot, I write it all down, and I’m not averse to an unhappy ending. This essay is the story of who I have been all my life; I am a geek. I’m not just a geek, but that aspect of who I am has evolved over the years and is a large part of my life.

For the first time ever though I’ve evolved because of other fans and I’ve been hurt by that change. For you to understand my heartbreak you need to know the context that came before.

The Early Years

the-back-to-the-future-trilogy-54f09d34045a9

I can remember being an obsessive person from a very young age. As a geek, it started with the Ewok cartoons, before I even knew about the Star Wars films. I was also into ‘Back to the Future’, something I have since identified as being one of my first real obsessions a one, unlike the Ewok cartoons, I am still captivated by.

I’ve always been relatively secure in my interests; if I had periods of trying to conform to ‘normal’ because of peer pressure then they were short lived. I know they did happen, and generally speaking they stopped because I was bored.

I was the kid that got called a geek, a nerd and a swot. When I was younger that hurt. Then, when I was about twelve and I turned around to someone shouting it at me with a simple reply; ‘And?”. They were confused; ‘So what if I’m a swot?”. It didn’t stop them from shouting it at me for a while, until they realised it didn’t bother me. They started shouting other things instead, but that’s different. I was sure of myself and my interests, and it stopped hurting.

This was before the internet and social media were all the rage; I spent my teen years having hushed conversations with friends about whether Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager was the best Star Trek Series (for which the answer is Deep Space Nine), or whether the Klingons, The Dominion or the Borg were the best villains (despite previous answer, The Borg, hands down). That was about as much interaction as I had with other people about geeky things; I talked with like-minded folks, who also had things like ‘swot’ shouted at them down the corridors.

And I never considered myself lonely; I had friends for other reasons. Being a geeky fan was an entirely different part of my life. It had more to do with my parents than with my peers.

star_wars_4

The first time I saw the Star Wars films was when they re-released the films in the cinema in 1997, branded as the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy. Like the generation when Star Wars was first released, I got to see it for the very first time in the cinema.

My parents introduced me to Star Trek. I can even remember being excited about the last few series of Deep Space Nine and Voyager broadcasting for the first time. It’s the same with Stargate SG-1, which I think we watched because of me and my love for the fact they combined science fiction with Ancient Egyptian mythology.

download (1)

And then there is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was never taken with ‘The Hobbit’, which I read as a child, so Tolkien was a bit of a mystery to me overall. All I knew was that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was one of the few books my dad would read again and again. I can remember seeing the trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring, and being intrigued by the fact my dad was excited by it. And then I saw the film for the first time. Wham! In the space of 178 minutes, I became a fully-fledged fantasy fan as well as a sci-fi geek.

It was my first evolution; it changed everything. I still didn’t like ‘The Hobbit’, but I devoured ‘The Lord of the Rings’, its appendices, and swiftly moved onto ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Unfinished Tales’. It made me take interest in Harry Potter. I discovered Trudi Canavan. The Chronicles of Narnia, which I had already loved as a kid, became even more important. As a writer now I write about magic, and it is all because of Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

It was also the beginning of my passion for special features; how it was made, how they did it, how the actors felt being part of the production. I read the movie guides and re-read the books again and again. It wasn’t just with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I did this. It spread to other passions. I practically memorised the Star Trek Encyclopaedia by Michael and Denise Okuda as well.

Being a geek was something I did with trusted friends, my parents and in the privacy of my room where I could devour my interest, safe in the knowledge that no-one could stop me from enjoying myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be an introvert at the time, but knowing that now, explains a great deal about why I was a private geek. This continued on for many years.

Discovering Fan Fiction

Up until I was about sixteen the internet had nothing to do with my life as a geek. The geekiest thing I did on the computer was read the Encarta Encyclopaedia. Despite the internet becoming more popular, it was something the cool kids did.

Given they called me names in person and my books didn’t, I didn’t really gravitate towards using emails, MSN messenger or MySpace, because books were better. The first email I sent was when I started university in September 2006. I didn’t join Facebook until 2007 because my boyfriend (now my husband) persuaded me, and also set me up a personal email account at the same time.

Before then I hadn’t shown much interest; I can even remember the first time I accessed a website. It was at school, and one of the German teachers looked at me as if I was completely thick when she told us we needed to access a website and I said didn’t know how; conversation went like this.

“Miss it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Type in the correct web address.”

“Yeah Miss, I’ve done that, but it isn’t coming up.” So I closed it down and started it up again because she thought it must have been the connection. She watched me type in the address again. I waited. “See Miss it isn’t working.” Then the look came.

“You need to press enter,” she said in an incredibly condescending tone.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. I pressed enter; it worked.

“How did you not know that?”

“Never used the internet before Miss,” I answered. The look again; I got it from quite a few classmates as well.

Admittedly, I must have been about fifteen, this was 2003 and the internet wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth anymore. I think using the internet was expected to be a basic skill. Needless to say I try and watch my tone when people admit they can’t do basic things; if you’ve never been shown then, HOW are you supposed to know?

And now I had been shown, I still wasn’t interested.

It’s rather miraculous really that I ever discovered online Fan Fiction. I’m not even entirely sure why I found it. I think it was because I’d been writing Harry Potter fan fiction (from the Marauder Era, but my protagonist was a character I created, and J.K. Rowling’s characters were just there for me to practice with). When I discovered other people did this too, it never occurred to me to join them and publish my writing online.

I was taught that sharing online was a dangerous thing to do because there were nasty people on the internet. There still are and I’m still careful, and I think the re-definition of ‘troll’ is one of the best examples of how language can be re-purposed.

It was also because I had no desire to share my stories online. If I was going to be a writer, then I wanted my work to be in a book and printed on actual paper with ink. I still want that now. I dread to think what people would have thought of my writing, because reading it back it is terrible. But it was practice. I did however have a very short phase of reading other people’s fan fiction with great interest, but I was only ever interested in Harry Potter. I knew Lord of the Rings stuff existed, but I had no interest in it.

It was I guess my first introduction to what we now call shipping. As a fan of the Harry Potter books I always thought Harry and Hermione would end up together. I still think that, but I’ve always been of the opinion that J.K. Rowling as the writer had the right to do what she wanted with her story, and I accepted that. In Fan Fiction though I was drawn to Hermione and Severus Snape ending up together.

It is weird thinking about it now, but all I can assume attracted me to it was the fact that I related a great deal to Hermione as a teenager, in the same way I did to Matilda when I was even younger. They were both girls that loved books and were rather clever, and they were accepted as such; I say the shouting of ‘swot’ down the corridor stopped hurting. It would however have been nicer to not have to hear it at all.

And Snape was for me the perfect complex character. I didn’t quite know what he was really thinking or who he was really working for; he was a mystery and I loved him as an anti-hero. At this point Alan Rickman had also been cast, and I have a soft spot for him, because I loved him as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

I cried, several times, when I learnt he had died; I do that very rarely for celebrities, Natasha Richardson having been the previous instance. All I can assume is that I liked the combination of Hermione and Snape, because as a hormonal teen, it was a weird way of having a crush on an actor.  This phase lasted probably about three weeks as a deep obsession, before I got bored and it petered away, and I went back to how I had been before; private.

There is however a reason why I have mentioned it; it was my first foray into the idea that people explore stories outside of canon. I’ll come back to that.

The University Years

I consider being a student at University as my formative years. Because in university, I met more geeks, and being into geeky stuff at university isn’t uncool. I didn’t have to talk in a hushed voice about my opinions. People in university are a lot more grown up than school kids.

I also theorise that alcohol, partying, and the freedom to do whatever you wanted outside of parental constraints but within the law, changed most people that thought being a geek was a bad thing by teaching them a lesson. The lesson being that people are allowed to be whoever they want to be. All the geeks, nerds and swots actually had a head-start on the cool kids with that freedom, because we had been free being ourselves for a lot longer.

I went out in Newcastle on my first night as a student; I was out until 3am with a girl I didn’t know but who I had to now share a bathroom with. I was also utterly naïve to partying, and I hated every minute of it. I stayed sober, and somehow managed to get myself to my 9am introductory lecture in the morning. I was bleary eyed, but I paid attention enough to discover I could be a student representative, and thus started my interest in politics, but that’s another story.

the time traveller's wife.jpg

That night, rather than go out again I stayed in reading a new book I’d treated myself to with my student loan ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. It is the only time I have read the book, because the context I read it in is too important for me to consider going back to it just yet (this is how I still feel ten years later). I lost myself in its pages, rather than go out to ‘have fun’ just because I could. I already knew who I was as a person, and it was the sort of person who curls up with a good book rather than light up the ‘Toon’.

I did meet people at university though, including the man that is now my husband. I did it my way though, via social interaction that didn’t involve being hungover the next day. I was bruised, but that happens in Karate. I made friends on my history course, and through my hobby, and discovered commons interests with them. With my partner, we shared our interests by binge watching box sets, and talking about geeky stuff we loved as we got to know each other.

I was no longer a private geek; I had my partner and I had friends at university that were a lot more open to accepting me as being a geek. I was also becoming a great deal more certain about the fact that I want to be a writer. This lead me to the internet.

Social Media

i-am-a-writer

I have this blog, and it is the foundation stone for my platform as a writer. It links to Facebook and to Twitter. It linked to Google+ and being a good little social networker, I set myself up on Pinterest and Tumblr too; I was connected.

Google+ was the first to fall away due to it being mysterious. Pinterest never really worked for me and my blog. Tumblr just became somewhere else where I copied my WordPress posts to without much readership. It is only really on Facebook and Twitter that I’ve maintained my author platform.

Pinterest and Tumblr though become something else to me; they became the places I went to follow my geeky interests. I find crossovers amusing; there are some really great examples of fan art out there, and while I don’t participate myself I have been stunned by the creativity and dedication some people put into their passion.

I evolved again; I was no longer a private geek, I was a social media geek. I laughed alongside everyone else at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms.

I began to identify as being part of fandoms. I connected with other like-minded people. It became something that I would share with my partner; I’d even share content on Facebook with my non-geek friends as a demonstration of who I am as a person. I would laugh at, like, re-blog, pin, and tweet about things geeky that I loved. While my platform was still there for writing, it also became the online extension of the geeky part of my personality.

I was no longer a private geek, and when on this very blog I started to write reviews, I deliberately developed sections dedicated to certain fandoms. I doubt that I am alone in having done this, and I would very much correlate this rise in geeks creating content for the internet with the rise in franchises. Because why not? Fan content is free marketing. Why create something new, when what you can do instead is simply add to an existing franchise with a fandom that will go on to passionately share their fan-art and memes. Many will even go on to write fan-fiction.

This is who I became. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t admired everything that I’ve seen over the years with wide-eyed naivety. There are things that don’t amuse me, there are fandoms that I’m not a part of, and I don’t always agree with everything shared on the internet.

I am also just not that into shipping; the foray into Harry Potter fan fiction was brief. I also very briefly developed in interest in Reylo because of one sketch by a fan. I read one fan fiction dedicated to Kylux. Then people started shipping Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, and alarm bells went off in my head. I stopped paying attention to shipping and went back a step to crossovers, memes and great art work.

To be honest, I ashamed that I didn’t see what happened next coming from a mile off.

‘The Final Problem’

sherlock-series-4

Needless to say I no longer laugh at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms. Whether she was ever real or not, the joke was real and that girl saw something I didn’t. She saw the obsession of some fans and was frightened by how intensely protective they are their interest.

I’m not frightened; I am really disappointed.

As you can see from my essay, I have evolved as a fan over the years. I was the little girl pouring over books, and watching the television with my parents. I dipped my toe here or there into the internet, before becoming a confident half of a partnership not scared to be geeky together. And then I became the social media geek.

Over the years, what I have liked has changed. I mentioned ‘Matilda’ before; I was a massive Roald Dahl fan. That faded for years until I recently read ‘Love from Boy’.

love from boy

I am still a massive fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Silmarillion’, and I also like ‘The Hobbit’ films, despite the fact I dislike the book.

marvel-cinematic-universe-01-350x164

I have had a love/hate relationship with the MCU for years; I hate Tony Stark, but ‘The Winter Soldier’ made me fall into love with the rest of the MCU. Now though I’m a bit ‘meh’ about it because I’ve got bored.

tardis

I’ve also figured out why I’ve struggled to connect to Doctor Who in recent years because of the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential which satisfied my love of knowing how it was made.

And there are many more; I am a Browncoat; I find joy in Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books. There are standalone books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ that have wormed their way into my heart. I’ve never blogged about Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them re-sparked inspiration for my own writing.

I blog reviews and I talk about my passions a lot. However, except from having the odd discussion on WordPress with other bloggers, all of which have been pleasant even if we haven’t always agreed, I was only ever really an observer of internet fandoms.

I’m really struggling to be that anymore. Every time I go on Tumblr now I leave it feeling low. I’ve pretty much stopped because instead of cheering me up and being a place of refuge it has become a place where I only find hatred. If it was not for the fact I go on Tumblr to also read about Feminism, LBGTQIA and INTJ, I might have already followed through with my deleting my account entirely.  I’ve retreated on Pinterest; I haven’t deleted my ‘Geek!’ board but it is now a private place just for me and my husband.

I want to be a private geek again; someone who talks with like-minded people in person. The appeal of being part of a fandom died a sudden death and it utterly broke my heart. There have been actual tears because I loved going on the internet and seeing that I was not alone as a geek. I even tweeted this not long ago before I’d come to fully realise and process all of my recent feelings.

Like I said I wasn’t lonely as a geeky child, but there were fewer of us. Before the internet I hadn’t really been able to discover the true richness of being able to share your passions with other people. I was able to become that person over time and through the development of technology that put other people in the palm of my hand wherever I was, provided I had enough battery and a decent 4G signal. Pulling back from what I had become hurts.

It hurts all the more, because it isn’t what I love that’s changed and changed me like it had been before. Other fans crossing the line has forced this transformation.

I have been disappointed over the years by things I love. I don’t like ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ all that much, either the book or the film. I don’t hate J.K. Rowling because of it though. I was deeply disappointed by ‘Civil War’; I don’t hate the creators of the MCU though. I don’t dislike Tolkien just because I’ve never liked ‘The Hobbit’. I might never forgive the BBC for cancelling Doctor Who Confidential, or Fox for cancelling Firefly; I don’t hate the people who made that decision though.

And I might not have been thrilled with ‘The Final Problem’ the last episode in the fourth series of Sherlock, but I mostly certainly don’t hate Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss because of it. I certainly don’t send threating tweets or blog on Tumblr about how the creators are now not allowed to identify themselves as being who they are because people disliked what they didn’t do in Sherlock. I don’t lash out angrily at other fans because they are fans of Sherlock in a different way, and didn’t have the same hate-fuelled reaction to the episode. I don’t believe my opinion is the only one that matters and anyone else is wrong, which therefore justifies bullying.

I have never hated a writer because they did something I disliked. I’ve been disappointed, and fine yes the first time I watched ‘The Final Problem’ I was a bit bored. I wasn’t the second time though and while it will never be one of my favourite episodes it is still better than most television I’ve ever watched. In fact I would credit Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss with sparking off a bit of a television revolution. I doubt clever shows that don’t dumb it down for their audience such as ‘The Man in the High Castle’ or ‘Westworld’ would exist if the foundation of modern clever television that started with Sherlock hadn’t been laid.

I will never agree with the reasons people are justifying those actions ; the creators are human beings and that in itself is enough for me to be respectful. I reserve hatred for rare examples of human beings who are actively making the very real lives of human beings miserable. I’d never hate someone because of something fictional.

The fact people are acting like this has actually made me ashamed of being a geek, something I have never felt in my life.

I shed tears when I first saw Gandalf fall in Moria; I still cry when Dumbledore dies; I struggle to watch John Watson talking to Sherlock’s grave; and the ending to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress chokes me up just thinking about it. I’ve been moved to tears many times over the years because of the books, films and televisions shows that I have let into my heart.

I never thought I’d ever cry because another fan had hurt me, but I have, and those tears have been the most painful, because they came from the very last sort of people I ever thought; the sort of people who like me probably got called a ‘swot’ or a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ when it was meant as an insult rather than as a way of identifying ourselves.

Moving forward…

I detest the word fandom now; I’m seriously contemplating editing my entire blog to remove the word. If it does disappear then you know I did.

I’m in two minds about keeping my Tumblr account, and I doubt my ‘Geek!’ board will ever re-emerge as a public board on Pinterest. I’ve stopped reading the comment threads on twitter, especially on anything Mark Gatiss tweets. I’ve followed him for years, for various reasons and loved reading the commentary because many of his fans are witty and respectful. Now, I always find one that isn’t.

I don’t want to be associated with that backlash. I don’t want to be thought of as a member of any fandom, because for me the word has come to be associated with being part of the ownership of what has been created. Rather than the writer being the owner, the audience is instead, which is a very postmodernism viewpoint and I dislike postmodernism for many reasons.

Fan Fiction in the days when I developed an interest in Snape/Hermione was a bit of fun. I should have known when people started shipping Daisy and Adam, rather than Rey and Kylo that the lines between reality and fiction, canon and fan fiction have become blurred. For some people I don’t even think they exist at all.

And I think it is going to take me a long time to come to terms with the disappointment I felt when fans of Sherlock lashed out in hatred.

For now I’m just pottering along; I’m still going to blog, because I’m not going to silence my voice because I’ve been disappointed by what others have said with theirs. I’m using twitter to tweet some geeky stuff, because I’m not going to deny part of myself because other fans have made me feel ashamed.

But the most recent evolution of myself as a geek has shaken me to the very core and I’m not going to get over that easily. I also don’t see this evolution of myself as a geek being able to move forward with the sort of positive progress I have made over the years; I can’t ever go backwards, but I don’t see forwards as being an option either.

I’m stuck as a geek who can no longer entirely trust other geeks to have my back even if we have a different opinion. We didn’t all hush our voices because we were ashamed of being who we are, some of us just weren’t as confident about being a geek as others. We whispered to save those that were a bit embarrassed from being overheard by our bullies.

I never thought the geeks would become like the bullies. Maybe I am just a bit more wide-eyed and naïve than I had thought.

Book Review – The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

Standard

The_Magician's_Apprentice

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.

Book Review – The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

Standard

Trudi_Canavan_The_High_Lord_cover

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

Standard

Trudi_Canavan_The_Novice_cover

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

Standard

TrudiCanavan_TheMagiciansGuild

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.