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A Consistently Entertaining Read
on 2 March 2007
To sum this book up as "'Tom Brown's Schooldays' meets `Harry Potter'" is an unfair oversimplification, but does go some way to giving you an idea of one of the main story threads. However, there is more to the book than that. It is a highly enjoyable and entertaining read. Not especially demanding, but seldom offering the reader anything on a plate. There are twists as the story continues - not everything is predictable even though there are parallels to be drawn with other stories to be found on page and on screen.
`The Novice' builds and expands upon what has gone before in `The Magicians' Guild', the first in the trilogy. The various characters are developed and we learn more about the Guild, its people, the city of Imardin and the lands and civilisations beyond. New players in the drama are introduced and the plot thickens.
Sonea's life as a novice in the Guild begins in earnest, with the obligatory and inevitable cast of tutors, friends and foes. No story of a person's journey through school life can be devoid of bullies and those, fellow students or tutors alike, who would make life difficult. Sonea's experience is little different. As for use of magic, it's nicely restrained and kept to a sensible level. Powerful allies are unable or unwilling to intervene other than to offer advice or indirect aid, and even then it might not be accepted.
Dannyl's adventures as second ambassador offer an interesting diversion, although they are obviously going to be important as things progress. He travels to more distant lands and encounters cultures very different from that of his home city. What he will discover on his journeys may well be key to the final denouement, but we are kept in the dark as to what, precisely, will be the important break-through, how it will be achieved or any implications for the story's climax.
Again, not all is black and white. The suspected villain of the piece is plausibly restrained from maniacal stereo-typing, his activities and motivation are kept shrouded in mystery for much of the book. We only get hints about what he may or may not be doing. Doubt lingers as to whether he is, indeed, evil or even the true villain of the piece. The reader is kept guessing, rather than put in the position of the audience who can shout `behind you!' or hiss every time he appears. A rather more subtle situation develops, with delicate manoeuvres on both sides, although you can't help but think that the supposed evil-doer is always one step ahead of the game as the plot unfolds. At the time of writing this, I have not read the third in the trilogy, but assume that all will be revealed in `The High Lord'. I hope that the author will keep us guessing for some time yet.
To some degree, everything unfolds in a formulaic way: each chapter is usually divided into convenient sections dedicated to the key protagonists; Sonea, Dannyl, Rothen and Lorel, but remains well-paced. The usual array of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres occur and develop as you would expect, with small victories on both sides as time and plot progress. However, the threads are woven in an entertaining fashion, with a balance of sufficient detail, action, explanation and mystery or suspense to hold the attention. Again, remember that the novels are written for a largely teenage audience and, as such, I think set a good standard. They challenge the reader as well as the characters - there is never any claim that everything comes easily to a wizard, young or old. OK, so we feel sure that Sonea will somehow win through, but not everything goes her way, and what happens along the path is sufficiently interesting to make us want to read on.