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The Novice

by Trudi Canavan (Atom, 2004)

In the second book of the Black Magician trilogy, Sonea’s story continues. Now a novice at the Magicians’ Guild, Sonea is the only one from among the lower classes. Hundreds of years of a severely restrictive social structure means that the young sons and daughters of the Houses who are her classmates are not inclined to accept her easily. Among her most vocal opponents is one young man called Regin who is determined to keep her in her place.

However, hard work, extraordinary magical strength and some loyal friends make Sonea’s life just about bearable. Her choices are limited: she can either choose to be trained as a magician by the Guild or return to the slums with her powers blocked. But matters are complicated because of a secret she had accidentally discovered while on the run from the Guild with her friend Cery—a secret she shares with her guardian Lord Rothen and Administrator Lorlen. If revealed, it could destroy the Guild and possibly pose a threat to the kingdom of Kyralia, if not to the entire Allied Lands themselves.

But as Regin’s tormenting gets unbearable, Sonea finds herself under the High Lord’s guardianship. This comes at a price, however, and she is called upon to protect a dark secret of the leader of the magicians. As her former guardian Lord Rothen—who regards Sonea as the daughter he never had—watches helplessly, the High Lord relentlessly manipulates people and situations to protect his terrible secret.

Meanwhile, the young Lord Dannyl, Sonea’s friend and Rothen’s former ward, has been entrusted with the post of Second Guild Ambassador to Elyne, one of Kyralia’s close neighbours. He departs with a secret order to resume the High Lord’s research into ancient magic. While Sonea struggles with her bleak existence in which she has to endure bullying as well as promise her silence in exchange for the safety of those she loves, Dannyl has to deal with personal questions of his own even as he gets closer to a terrible discovery.

The very idea of an academy that trains magicians conjures images of the world of Harry Potter, but Canavan’s depiction is very different, as politics intertwine with a disturbingly accurate representation of cruelty in teenagers. It makes Hogwarts seem rather childish and simplistic!

Despite its bleak undertones, there is quite a bit of humour in the book. And an increasing affection between two very likeable individuals keeps an unusual romantic angle alive. The Novice ends with Sonea in an unenviable position, and sets the series up for a rousing finish.

RATING: 8/10

The Black Magician trilogy:

Book I: The Magicians’ Guild
Book III: The High Lord