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Trudi Canavan does wizards well

October 8, 2010

A joint  review of The Novice, and The High Lord, by Trudi Canavan.

Both books are continuations of The Magician’s Guild, which I read earlier this summer.

So much of the time, the books I wind up loving the most are the books that took a while to win me over. I am pretty sure I tried The Magician’s Guild, once or twice, before I got into it.  But once I was in… I was basically engulfed. The kind of good, smart fantasy, where the characters and the social politics strengthened the sense of adventure. Where I’d read for chapters at a stretch, and then look up, kind of confused that nobody around me was wearing wizard’s robes. (Yes, that would look strange on the subway.)

Canavan carried that same attention to supporting characters and cultural nuances through the next two volumes in the series, weaving together parallel stories for different aspects of a fascinating whole. I wish more fantasy writing were like this. Characters whose emotions feel human- nuanced, sometimes petty, sometimes pragmatic. So much fantasy writing gets into Ye Olde Overblown Life Or Death, Black Or White, Prophecy-Style stuff. I like that Canavan gave her characters room to change and shift, to learn gradually. And I feel that the ones who did shift, did so in mostly believable ways.

I like that the gay character was mostly just himself, and not very often A Gay Character in any political agenda sort of way. I like that he was neither completely shunned nor completely accepted, but it varied based on who he was dealing with, what their attitudes toward him and their cultures were. I like the way love stories and attractions played out, for any character. Also, loyalties and distrust. Canavan has an excellent sense of believably natural human progress and motivation. That’s hugely important in selling a fantasy adventure.

After three books in her world, I’m willing to forgive her my initial source of grumpiness- excessive made-up-language without enough structure or explanation. I still think things could have been described and introduced better, for grounding, but it might have gotten in the way of what was a beautifully balanced, well characterized adventure.

Because I enjoyed the characters so much, I’m torn between wishing the series had gone on past three, and being impressed at how well resolved things were.

Damn. Now what do I read? I want more wizards, but I’m wary of reading any fantasy I won’t enjoy this much. Canavan absolutely raised the bar on fantasy characters. I’ll have to see what else she’s written, or read nonfiction for a while, to get the wizards out of my head properly.

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