6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

Title: The Magician’s Apprentice

Author: Trudi Canavan

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: May 2009
Paperback: 800 pages

In the remote village of Mandryn, Tessia serves as assistant to her father, the village Healer – much to the frustration of her mother, who would rather she found a husband. Despite knowing that women aren’t readily accepted by the Guild of Healers, Tessia is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps. But her life is about to take a very unexpected turn.

When treating a patient at the residence of the local magician, Lord Dakon, Tessia is forced to fight off the advances of a visiting Sachakan mage – and instinctively uses magic. She now finds herself facing an entirely different future as Lord Dakon’s apprentice.

Although there are long hours of study and self-discipline, Tessia’s new life also offers more opportunities than she had ever hoped for, and an exciting new world opens up to her. There are fine clothes and servants – and, she is delighted to learn – regular trips to the great city of Imardin.

But along with the excitement and privilege, Tessia is about to discover that her magical gifts bring with them a great deal of responsibility. Events are brewing that will lead nations into war, rival magicians into conflict, and spark an act of sorcery so brutal that its effects will be felt for centuries. . .

Stand alone or series: Prequel to the Black Magician Trilogy, though can be read as a stand alone novel.

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher

Why did I read this book: I have heard nothing but praise for Trudi Canavan, and I’m a bit ashamed that I had never read any of her books. So, when we received a review copy of her new paperback version of her latest book in the mail, I decided that it was time to get off the procrastination llama and get readin’.


In the emancipated kingdom of Krylia, taught magicians rule the upper echelons of society – although every once in a while, a “natural” comes along. According to Krylian law (and for the safety of everyone involved), natural talents must be trained by the magician that has discovered them, regardless of age, sex, or standing. Such is the position of young Tessia Dare, the only child of a humble but respected healer in the countryside village of Mandryn, under the fair-handed rule of local Magician, Lord Dakon. Determined to prove herself as a healer – despite the fact that she is a woman and no man could possibly want a female with such a vocation for a wife – Tessia works diligently as her father’s assistant. When the Hanara, the slave of Takado, a visiting magician from neighboring kingdom Sachaka, is brutally beaten and near death at Lord Dakon’s manor, Tessia rushes at the opportunity to help. But when Tessia is attacked by Takado, she reacts with a burst of power that can mean only one thing; Tessia is a natural born magician…and by law, she must be trained.

Taken in by Lord Dakon, Tessia is forced to give up her dreams of becoming a healer – much to the frustration of Jayan, a city-bred noble and Lord Dakon’s other apprentice. As it becomes clear that Tessia has a great deal of natural talent, Jayan’s frustration grows as Dakon’s attentions are divided and Jayan’s jump to becoming a full-fledged magician are unavoidably put on hold. And, when war comes to Krylia, Jayan’s dreams and Tessia’s training are put to the ultimate test. Sachakan magicians, hungry for power, have taken raids and attacks of magicians across the smaller kingdom of Krylia, and forced to band together, all the remaining magicians and their apprentices must fight back.

So, let’s start this off with all cards on the table: while I found myself enjoying The Magician’s Apprentice, running through its substantive length quickly enough, I never really felt truly excited or swept away by this novel. Keep in mind that I have not read any of Ms. Canavan’s prior works, including The Black Magician trilogy (for which The Magician’s Apprentice is a prequel), and because of this fact, I am certain that I am missing out on certain Easter eggs and nuances, of which more well-steeped fans are surely more appreciative. However, this doesn’t change the fact that while pleasant and enjoyable enough, The Magician’s Apprentice is a bit bland. A bit ordinary. Ultimately, The Magician’s Apprentice is simply forgettable.

The kingdoms of Krylia and Sachaka represent a familiar melange of fantasy settings and tropes – there’s the WRONGNESS of slavery, the DIVIDE between the superior nobles and peasants, the TERRIBLE limitations and gender roles that society imposes on women especially. And, of course, there’s the compassionate, incredibly gifted young girl from the lower classes that single-handedly takes on all these challenges as she trains as a magician’s apprentice (grumble grumble, peasant women becoming magicians! grumble). This all would have been fine had there been something extraordinary about the characters, worldbuilding or storytelling – and unfortunately, this isn’t really the case. In terms of worldbuilding, I liked the divide and tension between Krylia and Sachaka, and the rules of magic in this world are believable and well-defined. But in terms of plotting and storytelling? Again, it’s very familiar and banal. In addition to the thematic issues (the evils of slavery and gender oppression, namely), there was no urgency to the story, no real direction. Yes, we read about Sachakan attacks on the Krylian countryside, leading to an ultimate magician battle…and yet, there seemed to be much more time spent on conversations (about said thematic issues) and very little time actually forming cohesive battle/political plans to deal with the impending war. There’s an ill-timed and undercooked romance between two main characters, magical “revelations” that really aren’t that impressive or ingenious, and…well, what else can I say? From a plotting and storytelling perspective, The Magician’s Apprentice leaves much to be desired.

As for the characterizations, as with the story at large, the cast felt similarly lukewarm and bland. Protagonist Tessia is intelligent and kind and compassionate and brave and blahdeblahdeblah. OF COURSE she learns how to harness her (almost unprecedented) magical powers in different new ways that don’t involve *shudder* violence. (Also, Tessia is a dedicated healer, which is awesome and all, but really what is this fascination with female healers/magical midwives/whatever?) I did appreciate Tessia’s struggle to fit in, both as a woman and as an apprentice/natural magician, but we never really get much into her head. The same goes for love interest and rival apperntice, Jayan, who initially resents Tessia because she throws back his Magician-studying schedule. Jayan is the typical lounging lesser son lordling (with a heart of gold underneath his carefree facade), and he falls in love with Tessia for…well, her awesome goodness, of course. Lord Dakon is rather nice too – sympathetic and patient and understanding – just as all the other female and male Kyrian magicians are rather nice and pleasant to each other. The Sachakan villains, though, led by the monstrous Takado are of course EVIL – murdering power-crazed men that use magic to kill and own slaves, beat their wives, etc. You catch my drift. There’s also the introduction of a different side of the Sachakan with the awkward introduction of Stara, daughter of a high ranking magician, about halfway through the novel. Though I found Stara an overall likable character, her storyline never really meshes together with the plot at large (unless she is something important in the later trilogy?), and I found the inclusion in the book more than a little strange.

The thing is, none of The Magician’s Apprentice is bad per se, and to be fair, Ms. Canavan does write very well – heck, I finished the book (and at 800 pages, that’s saying something)! It’s just more of the same old same. There’s nothing to distinguish this novel from a vast sea of similar material – especially given that there are a number of exceptional fantasy titles out there. This probably wasn’t the best introduction to Ms. Canavan’s work, so I think I’ll give her older stuff a go. Still, as it stands, The Magician’s Apprentice is probably a book best suited for dedicated fans of the Black Magician series – and not so much for the fantasy fan looking for something out of the ordinary.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:

There was no fast and painless way to perform an amputation, Tessia knew. Not if you did it properly. A neat amputation required a flap of skin to be cut to cover the stump, and that took time.

As her father deftly began to slice into the skin around the boy’s finger, Tessia noted the expressions of the people in the room. The boy’s father stood with his arms crossed and his back straight. His scowl did not quite hide signs of worry, though whether it was sympathy for his son or anxiety about whether he’d get the harvest finished in time without his son’s help, she could not tell. Probably a bit of both.

The mother held her son’s other hand tightly while staring into his eyes. The boy’s face was flushed and beaded with sweat. His jaw was clenched and, despite her father’s warning, he watched the work being done intently. He had remained still so far, not moving his wounded hand or squirming. No sound had escaped him. Such control impressed Tessia, especially in one so young. Landworkers were said to be a tough lot, but in her experience that was not always true. She wondered if the child would be able to keep it up. Worse was to come, after all.

Her father’s face was creased with concentration. He had carefully peeled the skin of the boy’s finger back past the joint of the knuckle. At a glance from him she took the small jointer knife from the burner and handed it to him, then took the number five peeler from him, washed it and carefully set the blade over the burner so it would be seared clean.

When she looked up, the boy’s face was a mass of wrinkles, screwed up tight. Tessia’s father had begun to cut through the joint. Looking up, she noted that the boy’s father was now a pasty grey. The mother was white.

‘Don’t watch,’ Tessia advised in a murmur. The woman’s head turned abruptly away.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: The original trilogy, The Black Magician, is comprised of The Magicians’ Guild, The Novice, and The High Lord.

AND, Trudi Canavan has a new novel, The Ambassador’s Mission, the first book in a new spinoff trilogy that begins a generation after the events of The High Lord.

Sonea, a Black Magician of Kyralia, is horrified when her son, Lorkin, volunteers to assist the new Guild Ambassador to Sachaka. When word comes that Lorkin has gone missing, Sonea is desperate to find him, but if she leaves the city she will be exiled forever. And besides, an old friend is in need of her help.

Most of her friend’s family has been murdered – the latest in a long line of assassinations to plague the leading Thieves of the city. There has always been rivalry, but now the Thieves are waging a deadly underworld war, and it appears they have been doing so with magical assistance.

Although, this time, I think I’ll start with The Magicians’ Guild before tackling The Ambassador’s Mission.

Rating: 6 – Good, although leaning heavily towards a 5. I’ll make sure to give her older stuff a try before making any drastic decisions, though.

Reading Next: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

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  • Emily
    June 30, 2010 at 1:47 am

    I read the entire Black Magician trilogy, and had pretty much the same response.

    Canavan’s work simply does not excite me. Competent, but not compelling, is how I’d describe it.

  • cbosteve
    June 30, 2010 at 3:27 am

    I had also heard a lot about her and the Black Magician trilogy, and I read the first book a while ago. I struggled with it for some of the same reasons you mentioned in this review, it seemed quite by the numbers at times, and now a few months later I can’t really remember much about it. I can’t tell you anything specific about it but I know generalisations about the story, but it just didn’t grip me and pull me in. I think you’re right, it’s good, but to really standout now you have to be exceptional and have a unique voice, and I don’t think it was either of those. She may have a unique voice, but this was not a good series to show it, in my opinion.

  • KMont
    June 30, 2010 at 7:22 am

    first of all – I want a real live procrastination llama. That would be awesome. Picturing the one in Napoleon Dynamite. *chew chew chew*

    I’m sorry this one failed to excite you. 🙁 But a round of applause for finishing the book. 🙂 I’m glad you reviewed it, if only to help me decide on whether to read it or not. Thanks U.

  • April (Books&Wine)
    June 30, 2010 at 8:02 am

    Awww, that sucks that this was ultimately forgettable. Although, the cover kind of reminds me of The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, which OMG you guys should both read it was SO awesome!

  • janicu
    June 30, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Ah, another book in my TBR I’ve been meaning to get to. I will get to it one day but this review makes me feel ok about not getting to it right away.

  • Cathy
    June 30, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Sounds like the plot was pretty similar to the first book in the trilogy.

    I read the trilogy a few years ago, and thought it was okay (probably a B-/C+ overall) – right up until the end of the 3rd book, which made me want to throw it across the room. I’ve sworn off the rest of Canavan’s books.

  • Thea
    June 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for all the comments, guys!

    Emily – Rats. I was hoping this was a one-time misfire or something, but after reading a synopsis of The Magicians’ Guild and your reaction to the trilogy…gaah. And I couldn’t agree more with your assessment – “Competent, but not compelling” sums it up perfectly. My reaction after reading this book was basically, “So what?”

    cbosteve – Dude, I can totally relate. I finished this book on a plane ride home a couple of weeks ago, and I struggled to remember exactly what happened in this book while writing this review. There’s no denying that Ms. Canavan can write, but there’s nothing really special about it.

    KMont – Oh trust me, my friend, the procrastination llama is EVIL! Cute…but evil.

    And you’re very welcome! If you do end up giving this one a try, lemme know what you think.

    April – YES, the covers look very similar (and they’re both from Orbit too)! I actually have Brent Weeks’ trilogy high on my TBR – perhaps that will be my next read. Thanks for the rec!

    Janicu – Given how many books I know are sitting on your TBR (especially after BEA 😉 ), I’d say definitely put this one on the backburner.

    Cathy – I went into this book not knowing a thing about the Black Magician trilogy, so when I recently read the synopsis for The Magicians’ Guild, I was flabbergasted at how similar the storylines sounded.

    Now – what happens in the third book that is wall-throw worthy? I’m dying of curiosity here!

    And thanks for the heads up about the first trilogy. I’ll probably give the first book a try and see if I like that any better. But…based on your comments (and everyone else here that has read Canavan), I’m not too enthused. 😕

  • Cathy
    June 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    @Thea — The wallbanging issue at the end of book 3 is pretty spoiler-laden, so I don’t want to ruin it if you really might read the series. But, if you’re interested, I’ll post it here.

  • Stephanie
    June 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Oh, good, I’m not the only one who threw The High Lord against a wall. I was really enjoying the trilogy until the last few chapters. I eyeballed The Magician’s Apprentice in the bookstore the other day, but this review has convinced me that it’s probably more of a library checkout rather than personal bookshelf-worthy.

  • orannia
    July 2, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Thank you Thea! I enjoyed the first book of the Magician’s Guild trilogy, but the second and third…not so much, and for the reasons you listed so eloquently in your review. I guess at the moment I’m just looking for something…different?

  • Inca
    December 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I really liked this book and all the other ones she has written so far I started out a bit on the ambassadors mission aswell but I haven’t come that far.(Don’t have time for reading anymore, and I don’t think I like Lorkin….)

    Some of the books started out a bit dull but I love The black magician trilogy. I also really liked Age of the Five, I think they were 4 books or something like that. But I think they were better actually if you survive the first hundred pages in the first book.

    I’m not really good at seeing bad things about books, if there’s something I don’t like I don’t read it nor remember it.

    BUT I must say(saw it in a comment above) Brent Weeks write REALLY good stuff, It’s more exitement, the story goes on without to much discussions and so on. (Lots of action!!!!!)

    Have a nice day!

  • mhm
    April 15, 2012 at 7:37 am

    I enjoyed this book, as well as all her others. I read the Black Magician Trilogy about three times because I honestly missed so much, then I bought this and some of her others. I also have Brent Weeks books and they are amazing as well. 🙂
    I think I just like all books 😡

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