I’ve never really talked about those books that inspire me, which is sad since there’s a lot of them.
The obvious answer is Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is king, and the worlds created by the master are incredible.
But to say I read and write fantasy because of Tolkien is wrong. First, before anything else, there was the Arthurian legend. I was fifteen-ish when I read Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, and I was lost to fantasy forever after that. Because of her, I kept reading and reading and will always keep reading.
Had it not been for Mary Stewart, I’d probably never have read LOTR or any of the other books that followed, and I’d likely never have found Trudi Canavan.
And Trudi Canavan, folks, turns out to be one of my greatest sources of inspiration.
Just a disclaimer before we begin. This is not a sponsored post. Either my husband or I bought these books. Twice. And the second time with ugly covers! 😛 That’s how much I love the world and characters.
Also, this post isn’t a review as much as a breakdown of the books, but it will contain my opinions about the story across all three books in this trilogy, and also elements of the story to come in the following trilogy.
This means there will be spoilers. Major ones.
If you haven’t yet discovered these books and wish to read them spoiler-free, stop reading now. You have been warned. 🙂
Lastly, this will be a long post. The TL;DR version is this–The Black Magician trilogy is one of my favourite ever series, and has influenced what I like to write tremendously.
I wish I could give you an exact date here, but I can’t even narrow down my first read of the Black Magician Trilogy to a specific year. This was before I’d ever listed anything on Goodreads, and I’ve only been tracking my reading progress properly since the beginning of 2019.
I do remember I was still living in my parents’ house and had bought all three books together, so my first read must have been around 12-14 years ago.
I also remember the exact feelings Sonea’s story caused in me.
You see, before this point, almost every other grown-up book I’d read had featured a male protagonist.
Back when I was growing up–and this makes me feel ancient–YA wasn’t the phenomenon it is now. Those books aimed at teenage or pre-teen girls had female protagonists. Books like Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley–and how I loved those–carried me through late primary school and the first year or so of high school (this would be the equivalent of middle school in North America).
But then I shifted my gaze to the adult SFF shelf, where the brunt of the mainstream books was about dudes.
I’m not saying there weren’t any SFF books about women, I just hadn’t found any up until that point.
Enter Trudi Canavan.
The Magician’s Guild drew my eye immediately because of the simple, yet striking cover.
I’m a bit peculiar about covers. 🙂 I don’t like the fully illustrated epic-pose trend of a few years back. Don’t get me wrong, a beautifully illustrated cover is wonderful, but I’ve read so many books with a cover featuring the hero in a power pose, all muscular yet thoughtful, with the heroine slightly behind him, hair flowing on a breeze, looking at him with open adoration in her eyes.
And it’s great, really. But open the damn book, and she’s not the hot blond on the cover, but rather a gutsy brunette.
I don’t like detailed figures on a cover. One, I want to be able to form my own mental picture of the character. Two, as I said above, the gorgeous figures on covers tend to be illustrated to appeal to the masses instead of looking like the descriptions of those very characters in the book. I much prefer the new trend of partial or hooded figures on covers–just mysterious enough to give you a hint of how they might look, but still leaving enough room to picture the character as you will.
Tangent over. 😛
The point is, I bought The Magician’s Guild solely based on the cover, then fell in love between the pages.
The story is about this slum dweller, Sonea, a poor, thin girl who, when the book starts, has just been evicted from a home she and her family had worked really hard to move into. The eviction is because of an ugly annual tradition in the kingdom, the Purge, where beggars, thieves, and vagrants (read the poorest people of the kingdom) are removed from inside the city gates and returned to the slums.
The hated Magician’s Guild oversees the Purge, and the dwells (as the slum dwellers call themselves) throw rocks at the magicians. Of course, the magicians know how to shield themselves with magic, so the rocks bounce away without any trouble.
Until Sonea arrives, that is. She doesn’t know it, but she’s a pretty strong magician, and wills her stone through the shield, then hits a magician in the head. Pandemonium breaks out, and we have a story.
The Influence is Obvious
I read The Black Magician Trilogy over and over, many more times than I read any other books set in this world. I’ll happily admit that the standalone prequel, The Magician’s Apprentice, had a major influence on the original title of A Study of Ash & Smoke.
I just reread Ash & Smoke before publishing, and I’m rewriting my first books at the moment. I’ve always known there would be some sort of influence from Trudi Canavan’s work, but I never realised quite how much until I reread the Black Magician Trilogy last weekend.
I adore Sonea. When it comes to a well-rounded female character, stronger than she thinks she is yet still human, this is my girl. These days, when people call for strong female characters, the characters aren’t allowed to show any weakness ever.
Throughout Sonea’s story, she’s faced with many emotional hardships, despite being in a position of relative luxury for the first time in her life. Sure, she’s being fed, clothed, and has enough money to send home to her aunt and uncle, but since she’s from the lower class, she’s treated like crap. When she has the opportunity to show she’s actually a hard worker and a good, honest student, she’s ignored by her tutors and tormented by her fellow novices to the point where she has low-level PTSD. And that while hiding a dangerous secret from the entire Guild.
If all of that isn’t enough, she has to go live with the High Lord, the very source of her fear. She’s ripped away from her found family–again–and shares a home with a killer.
I found it fantastic that her circumstances affected her mood and behaviour. She didn’t just shrug it off, she handled it all, and grew as a character. That’s what I want in my female characters. Humanity. Fear. Uncertainty. The ability to go on, even when everything sucks.
Akkarin is one of my favourite ever characters. He’s all mysterious and unreachable in the first book, the Big Bad of the second, and the unlikely hero of the third. I’m usually not a fan of the jerkass with a heart of gold trope, but his story is so compelling that it works.
Yes, he does some horrible things throughout the series. Let’s not forget how he forced himself into the minds of his best friend, everybody’s grandfather Rothen, and a barely legal slum-girl. He also allows Sonea to be tormented by her classmates, only so he can see how strong she really is. But in all honesty, I love a hero who is forced to make questionable decisions for the greater good sometimes.
I’m so sorry that we don’t get to know Akkarin better in the first two books, though I totally understand why. It’s still sad, because he has a good sense of humour and quirkiness about him that’s super cool. He’s even sweet, though I will admit his confession of love is probably one of the most cringe-worthy I’ve ever read (it comes down to not wanting to lose another woman he’s loved *side-eye*).
Despite having read these books countless times, I still cry when I have to say goodbye to Akkarin. The first time I read his final scene, Now We are Free from Gladiator was on the radio. I still picture his death whenever I hear that song.
Now here’s a little prick. This character does a fine job of being a minor antagonist in The Novice–that one we all love to hate.
But that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I didn’t have as strong an opinion about this when I read the Traitor Spy Trilogy, but after reading Black Magician now, I can’t for the life of me picture Sonea with Regin. The fact that she forgives him as an adult is fantastic. She’s the bigger person, he’s matured and all that. But the level of mental and physical torture he put her through, endangering both her life and the lives of his cronies constantly, paints him as a psychopath IMO.
I don’t know, maybe Sonea has a thing for bad boys, but Regin’s behaviour is more than just bad boy. To willingly be with someone who hurt her so deeply doesn’t seem healthy to me.
Cery’s suave thief character rules. This character trope is one of my all-time favourites, from Silk in The Belgariad, to Raymond Reddington in the Blacklist, Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows, and Zevran in Dragon Age. My characters based on this trope are Elliot from the first trilogy and Pointy from Ash & Smoke.
I love Rothen, but then I have a huge thing for the cool old guy trope. Gandalf, anyone? The bond between Rothen and Sonea, and even Dannyl and some of the other characters, really makes me happy.
Lorlen, Lady Vinara, Lord Yikmo, and Dorrien all stand out to me. Lorlen was such a complex character, and I loved the dude. His death hit me harder than any other death in the series, except Akkarin’s.
I’m not the biggest fan of Dannyl–he was a little bland. His story arch in the third book was by far the least exciting of them all, IMO. Tayend though, is my most fabulous queen. I loved his personality and frilly outfits.
Tropes and Plot
Many of my favourite tropes feature in Trudi Canavan’s books.
In Black Magician, the idea of found family is strong, there’s a roguish thief, a MAJOR redemption story arc, a cool old dude, the protagonist doesn’t know quite how strong/special she is, and not only can anyone die, but they actually stay dead for real. I’ve mentioned before how I hate characters who died not staying dead.
Other tropes I love are present in this series too. Colour coded magicians (or variations on that), rigid class systems, Eurocentric worlds, made up slang/languages, and I especially love the author’s take on black magic. Sure, it’s bad when power-hungry people use this forbidden magic, but we meet three people who manage to retain their humanity despite using black magic in the first trilogy, and more in the following trilogy.
I also really like the slow developing plot. There’s something cool about finding ways to write about everyday events in the characters’ lives, and yet offer a well-written, good to read book.
I could go on about this series for ages, but I’ll stop here, since I reckon you get the idea. This post turned out much more detailed than I’d planned. 😀
One day, I hope to be able to tell a story like Trudi Canavan does. Until then, I’ll keep working at it.
Have a good one.