Author: Trudi Canavan
Year published: 2009
Time It Took To Read: Two days
This book is a prequel to the Black Magician and Traitor Spy trilogies, also by Trudi Canavan, and I bought it because it looked like my sort of thing. I wanted to see if the trilogies were going to be worth my while.
It took me a couple of days to read, in the baking sun. The story starts in Kyralia, with Tessia, who wants to join the Healer's Guild with her father, but is effectively barred from joining as she's a woman. Meanwhile, Lord Dakon, the local leader, is entertaining a Sakachan lord who he neither likes nor trusts. When Tessia, Lord Dakon and the Sakachan meet, Tessia discovers she is a 'natural' magician. This is a world where magicians can train anyone who can afford it to be a magician, but are obligated by law to train 'naturals' up. Magicians rule the whole country, and also defend it from foreign magicians who are less scrupulous.
Underpinning all this is the idea that Magicians keep apprentices so they can draw power from them, and become stronger themselves. This 'higher magic' can be taken from anyone, but is considered part of the magician-apprentice bond. However, Sakachans keep countless slaves for the same purpose.
So far so interesting. The story is good, though it is written with the expectation that you've read the trilogies, even though this book is set hundreds of years prior to them. It is obvious from the way the book ends that Tessia, as well as a Sakachan woman whose story runs concurrently, becomes somehow important in the future. I didn't feel overly invested in the characters. The Sakachan subplot, regarding a woman called Stara, comes from nowhere and seems to go nowhere, except to highlight how vile the Sakachan culture is to women in general.
There are strong feminist themes throughout.Despite it being the basis of much of the story, I felt like the magic was underdescribed. Apparently, this author writes to include a young adult audience, and I think this story would have been much better if written with more adult themes - there was no sex, and death was muted. Women are either virgins, or married to impotent/homosexual men, although promiscuity is implied. Tessia's parents are murdered and then rarely mentioned again.
I don't plan to buy anymore of Trudi Canavan's books based on this, though I do plan to get them from the library and see if they're better - certainly, reviews on Amazon suggest this is not her best work. Ultimately, I was hoping for more of a saga, especially after the brilliance of the last book I read!
Book count: 33/50