I had high hopes for Trudi Canavan's The Magicians' Guild (the first in the Black Magician trilogy). I'd read the prequel (actually written after) last August on holiday and was very impressed with it. In face, my reaction on reading the first page was more like a sigh of relief. The excellent standard of writing felt frankly glorious after months of reading increasingly tedious, clichéd-filled Primary World fantasy novels for my dissertation.
But it is a dangerous thing, I think, to start a new book and expect great things. This may sound very pessimistic but, hey, I reckon pessimism's great: you're either always right or pleasantly surprised!
Fortunately, my rare flash of optimistic expectation was not regretted. Right from the first sentence, Canavan's way with words was just as delightful as I'd remembered and there were times when I really didn't want to put the book down. This was despite the fact that I was at the time sightseeing in Somerset and really should have been concentrating on other things.
The story follows Sonea, a young girl living in the slums of the city of Imardin. In a moment of anger against the upper class magicians, she uses magic herself, something neither she nor the magicians would ever have thought possible.
I liked how the story was told from multiple perspectives, particularly the contrast between Sonea and the magician Lord Rothen. It was interesting how the same action could be interpreted in two drastically different ways according to the character's prejudices and points of view.
In my experience, most Secondary World fantasy novels tend to be plot-driven. The Magicians' Guild, it seems to me, is not. The development and motivations of the characters take centre stage, and the events move around them.
This is perhaps why the action felt rather slow to me. Not that I was ever bored, but it wasn't exactly a bare-knuckle ride of daring battles and perilous quests. In a way, it reminded me of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, in that not a great deal actually happens and yet I didn't mind because the writing was so good. From a writer of less skill, I might have got to the end and thought 'is that it?'
Even if I hadn't known beforehand, I never would have mistaken the ending to be that of a stand-alone novel. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger, but nonetheless screams out for a sequel. Sonea's story has only just begun and I for one would like to see what happens next.