Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review - The High Lord

The High Lord – Trudi Canavan.

This is the final book in Trudi Canavan’s opening “Black Magician” trilogy. I enjoyed the first two in the series, although I can’t say I raved about them. I read book two back in 2007 which might give you an indication of how enthusiastic I was about reading the concluding volume.

Recently however, I figured I was doing the series a disservice. Despite having read the last book six years ago, I still remembered quite a lot about it, which is unusual as sometimes I struggle to remember a book I read last year.

The blurb:

"You want to know the truth."

Sonea has learned much since she was but a penniless urchin possessing an awesome untapped ability. She has earned the grudging respect of her fellow novices and a place in the Magicians' Guild. But there is much she wishes she had never learned -- what she witnessed, for example, in the underground chamber of the mysterious High Lord Akkarin . . . and the knowledge that the Guild is being observed closely by an ancient fearsome enemy.

Still, she dares not ignore the terrifying truths the High Lord would share with her, even though she fears it may be base trickery, a scheme to use her astonishing powers to accomplish his dark aims. For Sonea knows her future is in his hands -- and that only in the shadows will she achieve true greatness . . . if she survives.

I was initially worried that I could not remember all of what had occurred so far but Trudi Canavan does a fantastic job of bringing the reader up to speed on the past events. This is done organically and doesn’t feel contrived in any way.

Sonea is now a “prisoner” of Akkarin, the High Lord she accidentally witnessed using black magic in the last novel. At the start of the book this means we find her as an introvert, wallowing in her own self-pity. It is a little annoying, but Trudi Canavan creates enough intrigue to ensure the mystery surrounding the High Lord takes over her thoughts.

Sonea quickly adapts into a more self-assured apprentice. She starts to stand up for herself and takes control of her destiny. There are still times when she doubts herself and can be a little naive and these can be frustrating, but for the most part, Sonea is enjoyable to read about.

The real star of the book is Akkarin. The confusion over whether he is evil or misunderstood drives the early part of the novel. He develops from a proud, loner obsessed with his personal crusade to a man realising that he may need to change his outlook in an effort to survive. He begins to see the potential in working in a different way and the potential of others (particularly Sonea).

This change of attitude is contrasted nicely to the rigid and uncompromising beliefs of the Guild. Set in their arrogant ways and bound by a strict code they are unable to demonstrate the flexibility needed. The result means that Trudi Canavan cleverly engineers the alliance of the reader to the characters she wants.

Administrator Loren also deserves a mention. His friendship with Akkarin is a complex one and the sense of betrayal he feels is honest. Cery too is a good character who has risen amongst the rank of Thieves, although the relationship he has with a random Sachakan feels unnecessary as does the storyline involving Danyl and another potential magician.
Other characters are less developed. Lord Rothen remains the same pining mentor we see throughout the trilogy whilst Balkan, Lady Vinara and the King are only distinguished by their roles in society.

The main threats of the novel are the Sachakan. These magicians feel menacing and there are several good scenes they are involved in that demonstrate their superior abilities.
As all series of the genre seem to do, the final book sees the characters leave the confines of the established world that has been built up in the early books. In the “Black Magician” that place is the Guild. Canavan does an excellent job of portraying life outside the Guild. In fact many of the books best moments come when Sonea is fending for herself in the wild.

There are flaws. Sometimes Canavan labours the plot too much. Every so often the point of view character pauses and then recaps the events of the last chapter to explain them in simplified form. Sometimes this is welcome but other times it is tedious. It is a shame that the correct balance was not struck.

Also the main love story feels a little clumsy and school girl like. There are times when Sonea swoons too much and everything feels fluffy and adorable.

The climatic battle is excellent. It feels epic and is well handled. The set pieces all feel impressive and the losses heartfelt. I would go as far to say it is one of the best final battles I have read. Yes, it is long but Canavan does an excellent job of maintaining the reader’s interest throughout in the form of an elaborate game of Hide and Seek.

Overall then, I really enjoyed this concluding volume. I was secretly thinking that once I read it, I would be able to put Trudi Canavan to one side having tried her and merely “liked” her rather than loved her. This novel has convinced to come back for more.

My rating: 8.2