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Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ambassador's Mission - Trudi Canavan

Orbit sent me an eARC of The Rogue, Trudi Canavan's second novel in the Traitor Spy Trilogy. Of course, I hadn't read the first book in the trilogy - The Ambassador's Mission. So, being the dedicated blogger that I am, I decided I should go ahead and catch up!

Trudi Canavan's world is one filled with magicians and black magicians. Where traditional magicians draw power only from themselves, black magicians can steal the magic from others to use for themselves.  In some places black magic is a lost art.  In others it is a natural part of life.  Kyralia and Sachaka, the two most powerful nations, exist under a tenuous truce. Kyralia, a place where black magic is feared and taught only to a select few, views the unchecked power of the Sachakan black magicians with distrust.

The novel begins in Kyralia with Lord Lorkin, the privileged son of Black Mage Sonea, deciding to do something with his life. He volunteers to travel as part of an embassy to Sachaka, a nation who had only recently been at war with his own. Meanwhile, at home his mother Sonea and her old friend Cery the Thief (read - crime lord) find themselves hunting a rogue magician who may be responsible for a series of murders the city.

Mission is set after the events of Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy (and subsequent stand alone novel, The Magician's Apprentice).   Fortunately, she offers enough information to fill in what happened in the previous trilogy making it optional through still suggested.  Despite having never read any of her previous work, Mission is familiar. For a lover of the fantasy genre it's like putting on an old t-shirt that jogs memories of the good old days. Her story is well paced and clearly written, with characters you can love even if they aren't total believable.

The novel's weakest point is character development. While the characters are well written and interesting, they just aren't very deep. I believe it was Anton Chekhov who said, "Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Canavan falls into the trap of telling how characters feel without showing it. Lorkin and Cery in particular are given a lot of page time without the opportunity to expound on their motivations. They both end up taking rash actions based on emotions explained only in a few paragraphs and not very well.

Compared to so much of the fantasy that's coming out today, Mission is very young adult. There's no strong language and only one very vague sex scene. Moreover the novel is not densely plotted.  Things happen in a pretty straight forward manner and the foreshadowing is not convoluted.  This shouldn't be read as a criticism, just a point of fact.  I found myself comparing Canavan's style quite favorably to James Barclay's Chronicles of the Raven.  Although Barclay writes a slightly more adult (bloody) novel, the pacing and character development are quite similar.

This first book in the trilogy is in many ways a long form prologue.  Little action graces the pages.  Most of the story centers around the politics in both nations setting the stage for what promises to be a far more eventful second and third installment.  There is nothing new or unexpected here yet Canavan does the expected expertly.  The Ambassador's Mission is perfect for a plane ride, a beach, or in between difficult reads.  I would not recommend it before bed as the clock is likely to speed by as quickly as the pages.

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