My review of Thiefs Magic by Trudi Canavan
Unearthing secrets and cultures long departed is the cornerstone for every archaeological student and while excavating an unmarked tomb Tyen Ironsmelter, student sorcerer and archaeologist of the Academy makes a discovery that will change his life forever. Hidden and buried in anonymity Tyen discovers a book of immense power. Once a human sorcerer, Vella has been transformed into a receptacle of magical knowledge by the greatest scorer that every life, Roporien. Bound to this fate for a 1000 years Vella cares for nothing and will never speak a lie. No loyalties bind her and any who hold her can seek all the information she contains. Keeping Vella hidden Tyen is soon betrayed by those he trusts mpst, when his mentor Professor Kilraker tries to steal Vella for the power she contains. Rescuing Vella Tyen must run from the life he has worked hard to build and searching for knowledge long lost to free Vella from servitude.
Along this journey Tyen soon discovers a truth, feared and hidden that magic is failing. The great magic powered industrial revolution is destroying his world. The illustrious machines created for the betterment of mankind is now its most lethal weapon. The precious few who recognise this secret will do all in their power to keep it for the masses.
In a place governed by the Law of the Angels, Magic is forbidden expect to those of the priesthood. Rielle, daughter of a rich family has from a young age had the ability to see magic, and has schooled that she must hide this secret lease the priesthood discover her shame. Rielle, knowing that if she can see magic’s stain she can use magic is tricked into igniting her ability. Caught and sentence to imprisonment by the priesthood, all is as it appears. Brought before her Gods and charged with a mission, Rielle must leave all she knows behind and venture alone into her world and replace the magic she has used. All know to create is to restore.
I have always enjoyed Trudi Canavan’s novels and for her latest I have been fortunate to be presented a proof copy of Thief’s Magic. This is the first advance novel I have had the good luck to be given and it’s a strange sense as it feels there is more of a thrill and anticipation to reading a book not available to all readers and more of a responsibility concerning the review of that book. For me, I have to be sure the balance of positive and negative aspects on the story are right as well as not providing too many spoilers.
Our introduction in Thief’s Magic is to Tyen and I will say it was a pleasure to read. Tyen, while initially bowing to the law of the Academy, is intelligent, resourceful, analytical and somewhat adventurous. He is a young man from a poor background who appreciates his past and the sacrifices his family made to get him where he is. Canavan has written him somewhat naive to the world and its harsh realities but his other attributes come clearly of the page while on the run from the Academy.
The idea that sorcery and archaeology are taught side by side was appealing to me, it is an adventures dream and can provide a writer with some interesting scenarios for the lead characters. The mystics of the sorcerer and the practicality of archaeology, Indie eat your heart out. I’m sure a fedora would have been a little much but would have been cool.
Eventually and thankfully Tyen’s trust and naivety sees him betrayed by his friend and peers, forcing him to flee with Vella. This is where the story kicks in for Tyen and you begin to empathise with the character. Determination, intelligence and luck flourish for him as we read about how he fairs in sorcerous duels, stealing air ships and captivating young women’s hearts.
It pretty obvious how this plays out for Tyen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Tyen’s future I see him doing one of two things; replenishing his worlds depleting magic or forcing his world to reduce its magic use so that magic can return naturally. He will look to do good but cause great disaster, not through malice but a willingness to trust and help others.
It’s this level of trust that is a cause of the catastrophe at Spirecastle. This piece of the story doesn’t make much sense to me for the linear progression of the character. Tyen has been running from Kilraker and the Academy for a while and to suddenly trust Kilraker’s scheme to restore magic kind of defies the lessons he has learnt. I can appreciate Tyen’s need to help the people of his world, but to aid the man who ran Tyen from his life, future, family and friends – I just don’t see it.
Vella as a construct is a creative character addition. She is alive yet dead, a person with a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips and all you have to do is just ask the question and the truth will be revealed. Yet even without this emotional connection to the reader, you empathise with her and the things she says have been done to her. A lot of fun can be had with this character; she supposedly can’t lie and has no concept of trust or loyalty. Vella has no emotion whatsoever, so depending on how this turns out she could be the greatest Villain of all (secretly hoping). Towards the end of the story we do start to see snippets of a more controlled intelligence – when describing the process for travelling between worlds, she omits the whole truth from Tyen. There is an abstraction here as she purposely left information out. While the argument may be made that an exact question may not have been asked, the constraints of Vella’s imprisonment dictate she cannot lie, but isn’t a truth of omission, still a lie?
Fair warning… this is most likely my own personal bias caused by some other books I have read recently – I am tired of reading about weak willed female leads that are controlled and directed buy their male counterparts. From time to time I like a female lead to be strong willed, determined and capable of looking after herself. I understand that not everyone can start out strong and that we all begin somewhat fragile and needing guidance but I didn’t need two thirds of the story dedicated to Rielle to revolve around her meekness and religious conviction before she finally shows some backbone.
This gradual development of a character doesn’t necessarily bother me as long as the plot and persona engage me; unfortunately the back-story to Rielle was a real struggle. With the wealth of good elements to Thief’s Magic I must admit to skimming Rielle’s chapters until I got back to Tyen.
Stepping out from my own perspective I could see a possible balancing of the characters traits. Tyen rose from docility to strength quickly with Rielle’s slow breaking of her chains possibly needed to counteract this. Additionally, Rielle’s status as a woman in a male hierarchical world is one where her duty will be to marry into a wealthy family to ensure her own family fortunes. This is a true format used time and time again in fiction but I am sure that Canavan will eventually evolve the character into a sure-footed confident heroin. Well I hope so anyway. In contrast to Rielle’s character development the history and layers of the world which Rielle exists has more depth and flavour than Tyen’s world, which does keep you on track for the novel.
The book is structured into eleven parts with each part dedicated to either Tyen or Rielle. Initially I struggled to find the common link between the two protagonists (not hard considering they are on different worlds) apart from their acceptance of the authority over them and it wasn’t until parts ten and eleven that crossover begins. Up unto this point you could consider these two separate books based in the same universe. If they were released as separate books I would be very disappointed with Rielle’s story as a standalone.
When Tyen and Rielle finally do meet I am not sure how they will interact with each other. There defined personalities and belief structure differ enough that a mutual understanding may be difficult to blend in subsequent books, without some large realisation from Rielle’s religious belief or Tyen’s own understanding of the universe.
At this point in the trilogy I can only see one outcome for Rielle’s evolution, learning how to replace the magic in her world. She will meet Tyen and discovers he wants to replenish the magic on his world and they decide to work together towards mutually benefit. I’m actually hoping for a darker twist to Tyen and Rielle’s interactions, maybe something along the lines of them competing against each other to replace magic on their own worlds, before finding a common ground.
Canavan’s concept of magic as a depleting resource is interesting; it provides a delimiter to what and how a sorcerer can accomplish. In a lot of fantasy novels a sorcerer’s ability is expressed by some innate mystical ability, a physical magical power. Canavan, true to form, has added what could be considered her signature perception to her magical world: magic as a force of life; it exists in everything around us, it lives, dies and can be reborn. What she has works, but I would have hoped for something more of an adaptation, a fresh take on the theme.
Having read all Canavan’s previous works I do feel she may be porting one too many elements from her other novels. To me it feels like there is an Age of Five crossover, particularly with the concept of sorcerers’ learning immortality to become god-like, as well as the concept of leeching magic from living things and the environment. I would be interested to see what comparisons other readers pick up when they read.
The idea behind the industrial revolution using magic as its coal was a nice addition, the concept that progress unchecked, bleeding the world dry of its natural resources to ensure the betterment of its people rings true in our own world. Innovation without control and consequence is a dark theme, which I hope comes up more in the subsequent books. The idea that humans are both their own destroyer and savour is a nice addition. It adds a responsibility to the user that they are part of the problem and part of the solution. Thankfully in a fantasy world we can hopefully make it right.
Overall the story is a success, mostly due to Tyen and Vella, with the last couple of chapters of Rielle’s story picking up the pace. There are some true Canavan elements and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next story. Tyen will only develop and learn and it will be interesting to see how he handles the power and responsibility. Rielle must evolve or stay the pawn of a religious overlord; I am not sure which way she will go.
I find that I want to be a little creative with my scoring, so I think I will be. I previously mentioned that this story could easily be divided into two books, so I am going to score accordingly:
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