Book Review: The Magicians’ Guild

The Magicians' GuildI discovered Trudi Canavan a few years back as I was digging through book shelves at my local Barnes & Noble. I was in a phase where magic and magicians were particularly intriguing to me, so the blurb caught my eye:

This year, like every other, the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city of undesirables. Cloaked in the protection of their sorcery, they move with no fear of the vagrants and miscreants who despise them and their work—until one enraged girl, barely more than a child, hurls a stone at the hated invaders . . . and effortlessly penetrates their magical shield.

What the Magicians’ Guild has long dreaded has finally come to pass. There is someone outside their ranks who possesses a raw power beyond imagining, an untrained mage who must be found and schooled before she destroys herself and her city with a force she cannot yet control.

This book highlighted one of the reasons I love fantasy: It gives authors license to explore gnarly issues in a context that strips our cultural conditioning from the dialog. The blurb had primed me to expect the class conflict, and the story delivered that in spades.

Sonea looked down at the trapdoor. Surely not … but if Faren said … though the magician might have managed to…

Suddenly she felt sick and cold. She had never considered that any of the magicians might be killed. Injured, perhaps, but not killed. What would the Guild do when they learned that one of their magicians was dead?

“Sonea.” Faren placed a hand on her shoulder. “He’s not dead. The trap leads to a sewage pool. It’s meant as an escape route. He’ll wade out of there smelling worse than the Tarali River, but he’ll be alive.”

Sonea nodded, relieved.

“But consider what he would have done to you, Sonea. One day you may have to kill for your freedom.” Faren lifted an eyebrow. “Have you thought about that?”

Canavan has managed to build the stakes so her main character has to choose to learn more than she wants in order to mitigate the risk of out-of-control magic while trying to fit into a part of her society that has completely discounted her value.

It’s a fast read with layered relationships that faithfully reflect the complexities between friends, between teachers and students, between high-status peers, and all the other characters of a fully fleshed world. I repeatedly returned to the maps offered at the front of the book–and still wished for more details than the sparse glossary at the end of the book.

The story is familiar enough to those who have read Harry Potter, but built in a world entirely of Canavan’s making. While I enjoyed it as far as it went, it wasn’t anything ground-breaking. For those who are looking for a new world in which to revisit the lure of power that comes with skill and wealth, and what it looks like for an outsider to dare to broach those rarified precincts, this book covers the waterfront and offers a collection of likeable, plucky characters to personalize the experience.

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