So I have finally finished all 3 books of Canavan's latest trilogy back to back and I must say its not bad. The first two books IMO were better paced than the Black Magician trilogy (of which is set in the same world as the Traitor spy trilogy) but the last book lacked the excitement of High Lord. I am not going to do a formal review, but rather refresh people's memories of the last trilogy to set the stage, and just point out tidbits I like.
This latest trilogy is set in the same world of the Black Magician trilogy we know and love. In the last trilogy, renegade Sanchakans outcasts known as the Ichani nearly defeated the Guild in Kyralia, despite being heavily outnumbered because of their use of black magic, and their tendency to draw potential magic from their slaves. Since then the Guild has allowed 2 black magicians.
Essentially black magic simply allows the magicians to store energy from other sources, eg animals, other magicians like a battery. Thus a black magician properly prepared is much stronger than a normal magician. In effect a small group of outcast black magicians almost defeated an entire guild of hundreds or non black magicians.
Back to the story. One of the plot points show the Allied lands opening up relations with Sachaka. Historically the Guild magicians of old who still practiced black magic, defeated the Sachakans and according to history rendered large parts of the country a wasteland. I will discuss this in more detail later.
The diplomacy is done via the character Dannyl who appeared in the previous trilogy. While there, Dannyl seeks to research more on the history of magic, and its this sort of plot device that allows the author to tease out a few hints for the readers, rather than just info dumps.
Obviously Sachaka has the more potential to be a powerful foe, since only a few renegades almost brought the Guild undone. Imagine the power of Sachaka proper, with tens if not hundreds of black magicians and slaves to provide them with magic.
The other 3 major plot points are.
2. Sonea's son Lorkin being kidnapped by a renegade Sachaka faction previously shown, but I don't believe was named. Interestingly they have the adage the Traitors. The name comes because in the chaunvinistic Sachakan society, a Sachakan dubbed his daughter that after she was raped by an ally. So they took up the title in deference to her. The Traitors are far from innocent, but they are on a whole, but better than the Sachakans.
Some undesirable parts about them include -
a. they reverse the discrimination and have women magicians on top (although they ban slavery and treat their men better than women are treated by Sachakan society at large)
b. Its revealed that while a Kyralian renegade may have caused the creation of the Sachakan wasteland, it was the Traitors who prevented the land recovering by seeding with magical crystal (a technology the mainstream Sachakans lack) which draws in magic, and prevents the land healing.
Plot point two forms most of the basis of the story.
3. Two students discover black magic from a book - I loved how this plot point did not drag on, and the resolution occurred relatively quickly. It served to set up one of the characters Lalia as a new character to watch. In case anyone was wondering, the thought of one emo teenager outsmarting adult magicians because they have a secret magical ring which tricks mind reading, did not appeal to me, so I really loved how the great plan came apart quite easily. Of course readers could see a mile away (or you should be able to if you paid attention) how she planned to trick the Guild and get away with murder.
4. A new thief overlord Skellin makes his appearance. Skellin is from a race not known to the Allied lands (although their homeland is known to scholars). He is from the land of Igra.
A minor plot point is the importation of opium
roet, a particular addictive substance, which even some magicians are not immune to.
I found the plot points generally well paced, but the Traitor victory seemed to happen very fast. In the Black Magician trilogy, you get the sense of how Canavan sets up the climax. The discovery of the Ichani and how we see them destroy the Guild magicians at the fort and then finally the epic confrontation. By contrast the confrontation between the Traitors and the Ashaki didn't have the same build up. Sure they dropped hints that the Traitors were planning something big, but it seemed like the Traitor's plan worked almost to perfection.Things I didn't like
1. The revelation that the Traitors were responsible for keeping the wasteland, while an infertile wasteland - this was brushed over very quickly. The Traitors just go, oh well we can't blame the guild for that one anymore. I would have thought this would have caused a bigger schism between Lorkin and the traitors.
Note - I am not adverse to showing that both sides are somewhat dodgy, but rather the fact that the revelation didn't change much.
2. The Mindprobe scene - Lorkin gets mind probed by a renegade Traitor desperate to learn the healing magic the Guild possesses. When an Ichani tried to drain Sonea's power when she was weakened, she used her healing powers and stopped his heart, turning almost certain defeat into victory. Lorkin just got mind raped and had to be resuced.
Yes, I know Canavan has strong female characters, so having a man being rescued by the woman, and even joking about it seems par for the course. Still I would have liked him somehow to pull some plan out allowing him to put up more resistance.
3. Sonea and Regin a couple. WTF? The bigot who taunted her while they were novices. What is this, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe?
Anyway, its good that Regin has matured, and in a way it seems karmic that the whole noble families are so good thing he liked, caused him so much pain. Hint his wife has affairs and tries to kill herself everytime he chases a lover away. However it seemed like Canavan was over compensating for the character.Few interesting tidbits
1. Magical stone technology - allows a magician to fight longer and a non magician to act temporarily like one, by using the stone.
2. The Traitor style of formation fighting is interesting. I think this is the first time we see so many magic wielding combatants engage each other. The description is similar in a way to the classical phalanx. One side of the formation protects it (ie uses defensive magic) while the other side does the attacking (ie uses offensive magic).
Lorkin noted that this has revolutionised magical combat, and the Guild better learn this or fall behind. In fact, the only advantage I can think the Guild has, is perhaps numbers and healing. Healing has also been noted to improve logistics by healing away tiredness. However by the end of the book, the Traitors start developing some healing of their own.
The Traitor style doesn't seem to use the clever tactical style of using a strikes coming in from a non obvious direction, or probing strikes used in one on one or small group fighting. I guess this makes sense. When you have an entire army vs another army of magicians, just fire everything at it.
3. She has set up Igra as the possible next baddie, if she ever revisits the world.
The Igra outlaw magic, yet hypocritically have magicians enforce this ban (on other magicians of course). This concept isn't new. Robert Jordan did something similar with the Seanchan, and Terry Goodkind also did it with the Imperial Order. Their magic appears to be inferior to the Guild, and likely Sachaka and the Traitors.
What they have going for them, and making them scary is two things.
a. that their territory is larger than the entire allied lands. In which case maybe the allied lands should add a rejuvenated Sachaka as an ally.
b. The appear to have an equivalent to a primitive gun. We don't know if it can penetrate the shield of an average magician, however Canavan applies basic physics principle to the question. Basically the magicians speculate it could do so because it applies a short burst of force to only a small area (the whole pressure = force / area thing).
I do hope she revisits this world and showcase Igra as the next enemy.