The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

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The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A readable enough story, although it doesn't offer anything new. The poor character development and predictable plot took the edge off any enjoyment I may otherwise have gained.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 608 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495972

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It seems that wherever you go in fantasy circles at present, Trudi Canavan's work comes highly praised. Reviews of her current and past work speak of it in glowing terms and readers have clearly felt the same way, giving her high marks on websites like Amazon and propelling her to the top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. Here at The Bookbag, however, we're a discerning bunch and previous reviews of her work have criticised her weak character development. Having had my first taste of her work, I can see both points of view, but would agree more strongly with the latter.

Tessia's father is a healer in the village of Mandryn in the land of Kyralia and she enjoys helping him out, despite the objections of her mother, who feels that motherhood is a far more respectable pastime for a young woman than healing. One day, however, Tessia is attacked by a magician from the neighbouring land of Sachaka and uses magical talents she didn't know she possessed to fight him off.

On discovering this, the local magician Lord Dakon takes Tessia on as his apprentice, teaching her how to control her powers and use them more effectively. Tessia is determined to combine the two and find a way of using magic to heal people. Before she can really concentrate on this, though, the magician she first used her powers against invades Kyralia and the land is plunged into war. This not only interrupts Tessia's training, but also results in the deaths of her parents and introduces her to a dark side of life she never knew existed.

At first glance, this sounds like a pretty exciting story. A young woman, newly empowered but holding good intentions for how she can use that power, is thrown into a sudden conflict that gives her the opportunity to learn more about the world and about herself. The problem is that Canavan is not the only person to have thought this sounded like a decent storyline and it's no longer anything new. To present an old story, there needs to be a twist to make it at least slightly original, but Canavan hasn't provided one.

The experienced fantasy reader will be able to tick off all the aspects you'd expect. A romantic sub-plot involving growing feelings between people who started out hating each other? Check. Some of the supposed good guys finding a darker side? Check. Some likeable and honourable characters amongst the enemy? Check. Magic being used for pretty much everything, even the most mundane of tasks? Check. A main character feeling the futility of what they're trying to do and being on the verge of giving up all hope? Check. I kept looking for something that would impress me and back up what all her fans see in Canavan's work and all I found was more predictability.

This isn't helped by Canavan's characters being poorly drawn. Aside from a couple of main characters, most of the cast seem to blend into each other. As the cast of magicians on either side grew as the war progressed, it seemed that all we were getting was a facsimile of all the other magicians. Some stood out so little that I was getting them mixed up with each other and by the end even the lines between the two sides were blurred enough that even keeping who was on which side became difficult. Canavan made the same point about the dress of Sachakan magicians several times throughout the story, as if it was all she had to cling onto to even remind herself which characters she was writing at the time. I don't even want to think about the character of Stara, who appeared suddenly about half way through the book and had almost no impact throughout the story except for one bit near the end that didn't require nearly as much time spent on her story to achieve and, indeed, could have been accomplished by pretty much any character.

In Canavan's defence, I can see why she may be popular, as this is a very readable story. It's quite simply written and she does have a decent eye for the pacing of a story. Despite my misgivings about the quality of the story, I was able to keep going with it, as it was unoriginal, but it wasn't so bad I couldn't continue. In this aspect it reminded me very much of Eddings' The Redemption of Althalus which, like this, rehashed old ideas, but was well written enough to be readable.

I finished the book feeling as if I'd gone out expecting a great meal and ended up being given reheated leftovers. It was edible, but it wasn't that tasty. I keep wondering whether, having seen her success, Canavan's publishers have demanded something from her quickly and the pressure has resulted in her throwing together a standard fantasy book. If you enjoy your fantasy-lite, such as the later works of Eddings or even Canavan's earlier work, this isn't a bad book. But for those who have read this kind of thing a lot and prefer their fantasy with a little more bite, this is better avoided.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you'd prefer a fantasy with better characters, try Fiona McIntosh's Odalisque, or to see magic used more effectively, Celia Friedman's Feast of Souls is a good place to look.

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Buy The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan at


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