The Novice is book two in the Black Magician trilogy and it has taken me quite a while to get around to it after reading The Magician's Guild about two years ago. I don't even remember how I came to reading it but I assume I must have bought it cheaply at some kind of sale. Back then, while I loved buying and reading fantasy, I wasn't completely obsessed and shockingly didn't even have a to-read list ... I pretty much just went and bought a new book randomly every time I finished one. The Magician's Guild was enjoyable, but nothing ground-breaking, and so I admit it was with mostly a sense of obligation that I finally got around to reading The Novice.
Reading this has made me think quite a bit about every thing else I have read in the last two years and how it compares. The Novice was not a best-seller and I assume never hotly anticipated by critics, whereas nearly every thing else I have read recently has been - the list including Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen Deas and Brandon Sanderson among others. While those books were wildly ambitious and incredibly original in their delivery and flavour, it can take time to get used to them and absorb the story.
What I loved about The Novice was its simplicity and familiarity. The prose was incredibly easy to read and the story was almost completely linear - but while this may be seen as a criticism, I actually found it refreshing after tackling so many heavy (in every sense) novels. I think it definitely had potential to be quite a lengthy and complicated novel, but Canavan leaves giant chunks of non-vital story by the wayside, choosing instead to focus intently on only the main event. While at times I was curious to know what happened in some of these instances, I was never left unsatisfied.
The best thing I can say about the book was how incredibly easy it is to read. There was never a time where I had to stop to try and recall fiddly details, character names, or past events - even having read book one over two years ago. It is steadfastly uncomplicated and therefore also extremely memorable.
There were two themes involved which I found quite interesting ... the first being bullying. Throughout the story, Sonea is constantly being harassed and attacked by Regin and his followers. Even though everyone including the teachers know of this, it is seen as perfectly acceptable to let the novices have their own way. In Australia at the moment there is a lot of media attention in regards to bullying over some recent teen suicides and there are calls from multitudes of people including the Prime Minister to put a stop to bullying for good. Because of this, I really struggled to associate with the stance on bullying in the book and became increasingly frustrated that no one interceded. I don't think it was so much that I found it unbelievable, as it was certainly justified within the story, but that the story drew me in so much that I began having strong emotional reactions ... which I guess you could count as a good thing!
The second was the surprising emphasis on the journey of Dannyl, his relationship with the openly gay character Tayend, and the exploration of homophobia within the book. Being gay myself, I found myself infinitely more interested and empathetic than if it were a heterosexual relationship. I have never encountered a fantasy novel that featured this kind of exploration in anything more than a cursory way, (such as the character of Meteroa in the Memory of Flames trilogy) yet almost half of The Novice focused on it.
Things became significantly more interesting towards the end when Canavan begins revealing facts that hint at much larger events than we have so far encountered, along with some more influential foreshadowing. I honestly say I cannot predict where the final book, The High Lord, will go but I do think that it will not be as shocking or grand as I would like it to be as an ending - but let's hope it surprises me!
I would recommend this series for anyone wanting to take a break from the more esoteric and sometimes obtuse fantasies that we can get caught up in!