February 20, 2008

Trudi Canavan

Posted in Writing tagged , , at 12:36 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

If you enjoy ‘YA’ fantasy, chances are that you’ve come across Trudi Canavan before. She’s best known for the ‘Black Magician Trilogy’, but she’s more recently published the ‘Age of the Five’ series. In Ireland at least, the ‘Black Magician’ books drew quite a lot of attention when they first came out, and a friend of mine loaned me the first one.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but reading it reminded me of everything that’s wrong with a lot of traditional fantasy today. Here’s a quick list:

Agonizingly generic plot: If you have a Thieves’ Guild and a Magician’s Guild in your story, take a step back and ask yourself if there’s anything to set them apart from the many, many other Guilds like them a dozen identical novels. Actually, scrach that; if you Guilds of any kind in your story, then please, do something to make them at least marginally interesting. If your Magician’s Guild is filled with pompous nobles who hate poor people, you’ve committed yourself to the kind of blandness that no amount of magical battles can save you from. And on that note…

Boring magic: When you’ve got magic in a fantasy book, there are two ways you can go with it. You can make it the focus of the plot (usually required if the characters are magic-users themselves), or you can just have it as anonther feature of your invented world. If you do the former, as Canavan did, it’s probably a good idea to make your magic system interesting – as Canvan didn’t. I’m actually guilty of this myself; in my current work-in-progress, the magic system essentially boils down to shaping the real world in certain ways with thought. There are no interesting words or magic writing you need to use to, say, turn a wall to dust. Hell, the magic-users are even called ‘Magicians’. The thing is, my story doesn’t revolve around magic, it revolves around the characters (most of whom never use magic once).

Slooow pacing: This one is a major problem in ‘The Magician’s Guild’. Sonea, the main character, spend a long time running around in the sewers (or was it tunnels of some sort? It’s been a while) trying to escape from the Magician’s Guild. About halfway through the book, I wanted to tell her to stop running and let the damn Magician’s catch her so that the plot could move forward. It doesn’t help that she’s an unreasonable little bitch, whose distrust for the Guild gets ridiculous later on in the novel. The rest of the characters are either similarly irritating or completely forgettable.

Really, the three novels probably should have been condensed into one. I haven’t read the other two, but ‘The Magician’s Guild’ barely contains enough content to fill one third of a book. The rest is all padding.

Predictability: This is another big one with a lot of fantasy. We know right from the start that the prince is going to become King, the girl is going to become a Queen/knight/witch/whatever, and that the Generic Dark Lord is going to be beaten. In this case, there’s never any doubt that Sonea will (eventually) join the Magician’s Guild, proving that ‘dwells’ aren’t all bad in the process. I could see it coming after reading the synopsis, and it all plays out exactly the way I thought it would. This makes it all the more annoying that it takes so long to get there.

The above four in one novel are pretty much the Kiss of Death as far I’m concerned, and ‘The Magician’s Guild’ has them all in spades. The only way you could enjoy it is you’ve never read much fantasy before at all, and think the idea of arrogant mages is original. What I don’t understand is why fantasy aimed at teenagers isn’t flourishing in the same way that other ‘YA’ genres are. There’s a lot of experimentation going on in other areas right now, and a lot of truly original stuff is getting published, yet really original teenage fantasy is relatively rare (even if you count stuff like ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ or ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’, they’re arguably aimed at a younger audience to what I’m talking about).

People like Canavan certainly don’t help the situation, and I for one can’t wait until people stop following the leader (you know who I mean) and start doing things differently from time to time.



  1. damyantig said,

    I have red the entire Canavan Black Magician series, but that is because I love fantasy in general…I do agree with you in almost all the points above, and thankfully my work on the anvil does not have any guilds, magician or otherwise:)


  2. lifelessonsfromwriting said,

    Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m perhaps not the best fantasy reader in the world. I’m very intolerant to cliche or overused ideas, which a lot of fantasy sub-genres seem to thrive on. I know some people actually like a lot of the ‘traditional’ fantasy ideas (by that I mean the Tolkien-esque ones, like wise elves and mountain-dwelling dwarves), but they annoy the hell out of me.

    Is your work in progress a fantasy novel? 🙂

  3. damyantig said,

    erm…not sure yet. It is semi-historical, bit of magic realism, mystical….maybe with a touch of fantasy. I will know only if and when it is finished, and if someone else reads it!

    I do love fantasy, and u r right, I started on it when my hubby introduced me to Tolkien, and nothing has quite matched up to it ever since.

  4. lifelessonsfromwriting said,

    Actually, I’m not a huge fan of Tolkien! I enjoyed ‘The Hobbit’ when I first read it, but I remember thinking that it was a bit too slow and description-heavy (particularly the first third or so). The Lord of the Rings was even worse, and I only got through all three books because everyone kept telling me how great they were. (I did like the part where the Hobbits ‘retake’ the Shire, though).

    A lot of it is probably just me being more used to modern writing styles and conventions, but sometimes I don’t understand why Tolkien is held in quite as high regard as he is.

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