Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

February 5, 2010

The Magician’s Apprentice – Trudi Canavan

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , , — Sam @ 11:54 pm

This standalone novel is an interesting part of the backstory to Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy, showing the founding of the Magician’s Guild and the discovery of magical healing.

It’s nicely subtle in its examination of war crimes and atrocities – not so much with the relatively flat villains, locked into patterns of evil by their society, but in the effect the war has on the heroes’ supporting cast. It doesn’t go to nearly such a high emotional pitch as a Donaldson or a Kay does (in fact, Canavan’s emotional pitch is relatively unvarying here – it comes across to me as slightly numb, which is certainly a very reasonable artistic reaction to war) but it works.

The one thing that annoys me is the unrelenting smeerpitude – Canavan’s books are scattered with rebers, rassooks, gorins (or is it gorin, plural? Hard to tell), ceryni, ravi, and so on and on. A helpful glossary in the back tells us that a reber is “a domestic animal bred for wool and meat”, a gorin is “a large domestic animal used for food and to haul boats and wagons”, and a rassook is a “domestic bird used for meat and feathers”. So that’s sheep, oxen, and chickens, then. Ceryni and ravi are two sizes of verminous rodent. A yeel is a “small domesticated breed of limek used for tracking”, but a limek is a “wild predatory dog” – aha, dogs, now we’re getting somewhere. And this world has horses, because it’s a fantasy world and horses are inherently fantastic. Her approach seems inconsistent as well as annoying – presumably she does it because sheep, cattle, rats, and so on leap out at her in fantasy worlds and spoil her immersion, but horses and dogs don’t, and a reber or a limek just add fantasy flavour.

To me, it’s the other way around – I want to know more about all these new things. I want to be able to have faith in the author, that she isn’t just splattering strange words around decoratively, but that they’ll serve useful worldbuilding purposes and we’ll get to learn more.

I want to learn that reber have three clawed toes on each foot, and a purple nose. I want to find out what their wool is like, what the people do with it, and what they use to dye it. I want to learn that yeel were first (re)domesticated by the Edrain people, because limeks had sharper noses and more endurance than ordinary dogs, and that the word is a mutated version of their word for “friend”. Or, alternatively, I want to see unremarkable sheep and dogs in the kind of countryside you can expect to have sheep and dogs in, so I don’t get distracted from the book’s themes.

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