March 01, 2010

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Black Magic

Un. Be. Lievable.
It's the first Monday of the month, and that hair-raising WHOOSH! you just felt against your face was February blowing by. 2010 has a superpower, and it's speed of days, people (but only when you're not paying attention). Already, it's time for Wicked Cool Overlooked Books!

Trudi Canavan is a Melbourne-born author who was raised in... Fern Gully. No, wait, not that place with those annoying rainforest things, Ferntree Gully, which sounds like a magical place in its own right, sans aggravating animation. Anyway, she had a dream job -- a designer, illustrator and cartographer for Lonely Planet. But writing was a budding dream, as well, and in 1999, she won a writer's fellowship. In 2001, she sold the first book in this series to HarperCollins Australia.

This novel was a great one to read during the Olympics. Why? Because of ... The Purge.

Sonea is a dwell, which means she's a poor kid from the slums of Imardin. Like so many other kids and teens in the city, she's just trying to get by -- and lately, she's been trying to get by without the gang she used to hang with. The guys are such fun, but Sonea's aunt has convinced her -- with a lot of scolding and heavy sighs -- that there's no future in running with a gang, and that her light-fingered ways will bring her to the attention of the city guards one day. Her aunt wants her to be more than a bol-drinking, pickpocketing dwell-girl, and Sonea has been... trying.

She means to go straight and safely home on the day of The Purge, but she gets caught up in the drama. Every year, the Masters of the Magician's Guild, at the King's bidding, empty the city of vagrants, miscreants, and those who make the city look bad by simply driving them out with a line of magic. There is nothing the dwells can do about it -- everyone is found and marched out, at the point of a sword, and prevented from returning due to a wall of magic. Forced into retreating beyond the circle wall, the poor lose their houses and hardscrabble existence and must start over -- every single year.

Sonea might be just an ignorant dwell, but even she knows this is no way to live.

This year, as always, the gang is fighting back. Throwing stones, rotted fruit, and other detritus at the magical barrier at least expresses their frustrations with the King's dubious city gentrification plan, even if it does nothing to the magicians, who merely stand chatting and impervious behind the impenetrable wall of magic. Sonea has nothing to do with The Purge -- but when she's caught up on the wrong side of the line after returning to warn her friends of an ambush by the guards, she grimly decides that she's in. After all, she's got a right to her rage. Why is the King of Imardin king only over the Houses of Imardin? Why isn't he a just ruler over all? Why do the magicians help him in what is so obviously wrong? Why should half the population have to scrimp and hustle, at the mercy of the Thieves Guild and the hard-knock world of the slums? Sonea takes all of her anger and angst and frustration and wraps it in the rock she throws against the magical barrier. Full of outrage and pain, the rock bursts through the barrier -- and knocks a magician out.

Wait. What? How'd that happen?

The reverberations of this single act go much further than simple anger over a lower-class person striking a person of status. The dwells are delighted. The Houses are incensed. The magicians -- and every other magic user in the city - are shocked. Sonea is ... terrified. She knows that the magicians are the destructive arm of the King of Imardin. Her life, as she knew it, is over. But run as she might -- and she's quite successful in dodging those trying to ferret her out, with a little help from her friends -- there's no place far enough or deep enough or hidden enough for Sonea to escape the magic... her magic. Her power has been awakened... and if she doesn't use it, it will use her.

This is a fantastic series for a number of reasons:
One - there are peoples of all colors in the kingdom. Imardin residents have a full palette of shades from surrounding kingdoms, complete with thought-out cultural differences to match.

Two: This novel deals with issues of class and injustice, and Sonea is not just politely dismayed, the girl is justifiably angry to be impoverished and in jeopardy, simply because of the decisions of a stupid majority. As I mentioned, it's an excellent novel to read instead of watching the Olympics and reminds us of what it takes to create an Olympic Village... the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and the razing of their homes to make way for the pomp and circumstance. Olympic host city gentrification is not all athletes and pretty skating outfits, unfortunately. Many nations collude in authorizing a Purge of their own. (But let's not get me started.)

Three: Worldbuilding - this kingdom has a lot in common with much of fantasy fiction's standard tropes, yet it seamlessly incorporates pieces of the modern world, politically and socioeconomically. This is an intelligent, fast-paced, well-characterized edge-of-your-seat nerve-wracking book for older MG/YA readers, and comes complete with an amusing dwell-talk glossary in the back.

-- And it comes with two sequels!

Another nice thing is that this series isn't brand new -- you'll be able to find the books in your local library. And if you look, you can probably find an even earlier series by the same author -- but I haven't read those yet, so you'll have to let me know what you think of them!

I feel I must warn you that the conclusion to the series made me more than slightly grumpy. I mean, I love an enigmatic ending, but wow. On one hand, life happens, and goes on, but I wasn't a fan of the ending. I was amazed to discover that the author has penned a PREQUEL (The Magician's Apprentice, just out last year) and a SEQUEL trilogy is in the works, so Sonea's story is still going, oh, happy thought. According to Ms. Canvan's blog, Book 1 of The Traitor Spy Trilogy, The Ambassador's Mission is possibly due out this May, with more swoosh-y robes on the cover! WOOT!

The Australian/UK covers really are striking and well done - the American covers have an unfortunate tendency to have Sonea as a half-dressed girl on them, as if being a reluctant dwell magician wasn't bad enough. Anyway. Pick these up - you'll find the story will leave you wanting more. Happy WCOB, and Happy March.

Happy Reading, dear friends. You can find The Magician's Guild, Book 1 of The Black Magician Trilogy, The Novice, and The High Lord, as well as the series prequel, The Magician's Apprentice, and eventually the first book in the sequel series, all at an independent bookstore near you!


Ethel Rohan said...

I know, March 1st already. Whoosh is right. Our third month into a new decade ... I hope it's a great one for you.

Sarah Stevenson said...

These sound really cool! I'm always amazed by the overlooked treasures you find.