Melaszka's Reviews > The Magician's Apprentice

The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan
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's review
Jan 02, 2011

really liked it

The kind of socially engaged, feminist fantasy I have come to expect of Trudi Canavan. As in her earlier work, I love

(a) the intricate detail with which she builds up her imagined cultures - everything from architecture, food, costume, to political and social beliefs is meticulously thought through and you can totally believe in it

(b) the way she's not afraid to tackle social issues like women's rights, gay rights, inequitable distribution of wealth etc, but it never becomes agit-prop - there's a realism and compassion with which she accepts that people who hold damaging prejudices and commit appalling acts can still be sincere, decent people overall, that all societies are imperfect and none change overnight.

(c) Her use of devices like shifting viewpoint to play with our ideas of right and wrong. Just when you think you've grasped who the goodies and the baddies are, she switches perspective and makes you see things from the erstwhile baddies' viewpoint and you realise there is no black and white - just shades of grey.

This has a darker, more sinister feel than the Black Magician and Age of Five trilogies. I felt the shadow of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hung heavy over it and there was some interesting exploration of how reasonable desires for self-defence and earnest belief in spreading democratic values to oppressed cultures can become corupted and oppressive.

The book wasn't perfect - one character, in particular, had a sudden and unconvincing personality change midway through, which seemed to be explained away by the clicheed and implausible "He's just gone MAD, innit?" defence. I didn't feel we ever gained enough of an insight into the Sachakan viewpoint. The ending seemed a bit of a copout, with individuals carrying the can for mass, cultural misbehaviour. I also felt that Stara's story was rushed and not developed enough. And although technically Canavan improves as a writer with every book, she's still not going to be up for any stylistic awards.

But a compelling fantasy novel that does far more than supply cheap escapism.

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