Off the Shelf

“The Black Magician” Trilogy

By Marcus Pan

The Magician's GuildHow many of you can remember the first time you cracked the covers of a classic multi-book fantasy series? The first time you looked into Hickman's Dragonlance, maybe? Or, of course, Tolkien's Middle Earth? How about Donaldson's White Gold? Forgotton Realms? And on we go...there's tons. But of all of those out there are always those that stand out, the ones I mentioned just now by name. I'd like to add to that list now, however, with Trudi Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy.

Set and centered mostly in the city of Imardin which reminds me of Sanctuary(1) (Thieve's World), this three book tale follows the life of a young girl named Sonea. In Canavan's fantasy realm magic is something only certain people have – which isn't an unusual concept – but when potential magicians are discovered they need to have the power released and centered by an already trained magician. To do this, the country of Kyralia, in which lies Imardin, has created the old Magician's Guild – a place of training for potential magicians to discover and utilize their powers in protection and service of the kingdom.

Non-guild magicians, rogues, are not tolerated and any magician who wishes to leave the guild whether by choice or nay has their powers bound so they can't tap into them – much like shutting off an emotional power source. Even wearing the marked robes of a magician when one is not is a crime. All magicians of Kyralia – and other allied lands – are found, taught and members of the Magician's Guild. Organized into a rigid hierarchal structure, the guild advises and takes orders from the king and governs itself from within.

Every long time coming the occasional person will find themselves with magical ability which arises naturally due to its sheer strength and power. Unfortunately, that very power will manifest itself randomly without proper training and centering by the guild who can teach one how to control and use the power. If that does not happen an untrained magician has the potential to cause cataclysmically destructive results as the power overwhelms them – and takes out a good portion of the area around them as well.

Sonea is such a magician. Throughout the first book in the trilogy, The Magician's Guild, the storyline follows Sonea's discovery of her powers one day during the traditional yearly Purge of the Imardin city where the power of the magician's is used to push out the derelicts and unwanteds from the inner walls of the pristine city into the slums that surround them. The Purge is, as expected, looked on as a terrible thing every year and always draws crowds of people to protest both loudly and violently. Drug into the fray, Sonea finds herself one of these protestors and in a freak incident hurls a stone at the lined magicians – to find that it has penetrated their magical shield and solidly slapped one about the head.

The result is a search of the city and the slums for this rogue magician. While Sonea and her friends feel the guild will of course kill her for being a magician outside the guild – who typically choose their potential students only from the higher well to do of Kyralia and not slum dwellers like her – the guild is actually trying to find her before she self destructs and takes half of the city with her. Hiding out in the underground tunnels of the Thieves Road in an attempt to keep the searching mages away from her, the find is eventual and Sonea finds herself struggling with the fact that within the guild – which she has hated all her life – are really good people with good morals. She's asked to join and learn her craft.

The NoviceOf course, the fine morals of any group will typically have the occasional bad apple, and Sonea is forced to choose not to join by another mage who's purpose is to not allow slum dwellers into the "higher creed" of the Magician's Guild. The intrigue is mystifying and satisfying and, of course, Sonea gets out of the deal when her friend Cery, whom was being held ransom for her decision, is found in the passages of the guild hall by another. She joins the guild...which is good because if not that then we wouldn't have...

Book two of the series, The Novice, follows Sonea's learning within the confines of the guild. Her struggles are doubled by nagging brats of "higher" social order who, regardless of Sonea's obvious strength of power, heckle and pursue her at every opportunity. The book spends much of its time describing the childish pranks and ambushes Sonea must face in school due to her social status, as a dwell, and this allows Trudi to really begin rolling out subtle plotlines that continue to build quietly in the background as The Novice takes on a more whimsical tack overall.

The High Lord is a riveting finish to the storyline. Akarrin, High Lord of the Magician's Guild of Kyralia, is found to be a practitioner of Black Magic – the ability to siphon power off of other people to increase your own whether to fight or protect. While the power does provide many good possibilities for moralistic use, it also provides the ability to become so powerful that an entire guild of magicians can not stop you – and hence many centuries before was banned from use and never taught again in the guild. However, unallied lands have continued to use the power of black magic and, therefore, has become very strong. A handful of their rogue magicians could easily overrule the Kyralian's sheer numbers.

For this reason Akkarrin learned and practiced black magic after learning it as a slave on a quest as a young member of the Kyralian guild. Practicing in secret while being occasionally pursued by assassins with the same power from the land he fled, he enlists Sonea as a willing – but not overly wanted by him – apprentice of the arts. The final confrontation finds Sonea and Akkarin banished from the guild and hiding in the city's outlying slums as a handful of rogue magicians from the Sachakan lands terrorize and beat down the guild itself. The battles are ferocious yet heroic, with the duo using tricks and traps to take out the Sachakan invaders one by one.

The High LordTrudi's series is phenomenally good and I enjoyed it immensely and recommend The Black Magician trilogy to anybody. Her characters are wonderfully detailed, the Kyralian milieu is intrinsically detailed and realistic and the plotlines are suspenseful and fulfilling. Sonea is as good a character as Frodo Baggins and the supporting folks are just as interesting. Much time is spent as they muddle over different thoughts in their heads giving the reader more insight into the world of Kyralia while simultaneously defining the people with fervor and realism. Pick it up yourself for a jaunt through a fantasy realm that, twenty years from now, will be as much a classic world as Middle Earth has become.

“The Magicians’ Guild” by Trudi Canavan
Copyright © 2001 by Trudi Canavan
Published by EOS, of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-057528-X
“The Novice” by Trudi Canavan
Copyright © 2002 by Trudi Canavan
Published by EOS, of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-057529-8
“The High Lord” by Trudi Canavan
Copyright © 2003 by Trudi Canavan
Published by EOS, of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-057530-1
(1) Shadows of Sanctuary was reviewed in Legends #147.

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