Trudi Canavan has been very successful in the genre of young adult fiction: The Black Magician trilogy was so compelling that it has frequently been described as ‘unputdownable’ and her follow up The Traitor Spy trilogy is a welcome expansion into the wider world that Canavan created in the first series. She writes compelling adult fantasy in the form of The Age of Five trilogy. It is therefore a little surprising and disappointing to say that Thief’s Magic is underwhelming.
Thief’s Magic centres around two different characters: Tyen, an archaeological student who manages to unearth a magical, sentient book, Vella, and Rielle, a dyer’s daughter who discovers that she has a talent for magic. While Tyen has always been encouraged to use his talent for magic to further his studies, Rielle has been taught by her city’s priests that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. The book follows the two characters as they discover that what they thought about magic, and its nature, what they have been taught throughout their lives is wrong.
It is difficult to point out quite how the novel fails to match up to Canavan’s other work. Looking at it independently it is an enjoyable novel. Part of what makes a successful fantasy fiction is the ability to create something original in an increasingly full market, and Canavan manages that with aplomb here. Instead of magic being something innate, Canavan creates a world where magic is pulled from the outside world, and is ‘used up’, leaving ‘Stain’. Her writing style is individual and interesting, and always readable. The character of Rielle and the world which surrounds her is fascinating – the complex social strata of the rich, the artisans, and the priests creates an interesting interplay of money and religion, with the added complication of magic. Rielle’s relationship with artisan Izare is charming, and you can’t help but root for their fledgling relationship against the opposition of her family and the local priests.
Part of the problem with Thief’s Magic is that one of the characters is far more compelling than the other. Rather than having alternating chapters from each of the different viewpoints the book is structured into larger subsections centred around each of the characters. This resulted in immense frustration for me as I found that, particularly in the first two thirds of the book, I was slogging through the Tyen sections, rather than enjoying them. While his character did develop throughout the text, and has been left in an intriguing place at the end of the novel, for the most part his voice was a distraction from the far more interesting narrative of Rielle. Rielle’s internal battle over what is right and wrong, in relation to whether magic should be used, and who by gives an interesting undercurrent to her actions, and provides an interesting and understandable motive, whereas Tyen rarely seems to do anything for a specific reason or motivation, beyond keeping Vella with him.
Overall, Thief’s Magic is an enjoyable read, and well worth picking up, as it sets the groundwork for what could be a very exciting new young adult fantasy series. However, Canavan set herself some very high standards in her earlier work, and so I cannot help but be disappointed that this first novel does not match up to the initial novel of the Black Magician Trilogy, The Magician’s Guild. Had the novel solely focused on Rielle, then I would have enjoyed it far more. I can only hope that the two sequels that she is working on, Angel of Storms and Successor’s Son, manage to match her previous work, as the ending of Thief’s Magic set up some interesting strands in both narratives.
6/10 – A readable novel, with one narrative that far out shined the other. If nothing else, the novel is worth buying for the Rielle narrative alone.
Thief’s Magic is published by Orbit books, and is available now. You can read the first chapter here.