Literature: The Black Magician Trilogy
The Black Magician Trilogy
is the debut series of Trudi Canavan
, and is centred around the country Kyralia where only the rich and powerful are allowed to learn and use magic, and the poor are more or less ignored, unless they're being trodden under foot. This age old system has something of a spanner jammed in its works when Sonea, a girl born and raised in the slums of the capital city Imardin, discovers that she has natural magical abilities. Since she learns this by throwing a stone through a magical barrier and knocking out a magician, it doesn't exactly stay a secret for long.
The original trilogy follows Sonea as she evades and then is recruited by the Magician's Guild, learns to control her powers, tries to avoid being bullied, gets caught up in a power struggle, falls in love, goes on an epic journey and saves her country from destruction. It was followed by a prequel, The Magician's Apprentice
and the sequel trilogy, Traitor Spy
, was finished in 2012.Late-Arrival Spoiler Warning: Nothing Is the Same Anymore
after the end of the original trilogy. Entries regarding the Traitor Spy
trilogy may have unmarked spoilers.
Tropes that show up in this series:
- Anti-Hero: Sonea, but the biggest culprit is Akkarin, who took up Black Magic in order to defend himself and Kyralia against the Ichani, and, despite Sonea, Rothen and Lorlen convinced that he's the Big Bad for the first two-thirds of the original trilogy, is in fact the only thing stopping the annihilation of their country at the hands of some ridiculously powerful black magicians.
- Anyone Can Die: In the third book, named characters start dropping like flies.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: The position of High Lord of the Magician's Guild is filled by the strongest magician, pretty much irrespective of other concerns; Akkarin got the job because he was as strong as twenty other magicians. Strength is also a sort of status marker in the Guild, which leads to trouble when Sonea is of low social status but is magically nearly a match for Akkarin on her own naked strength. At the end of the Black Magician Trilogy, both of these examples are subverted. Sonea is by far the strongest magician in the Guild, but as the Black Magician, she is not permitted to hold other positions in the hierarchy, and the position goes to the former Head Warrior.
- Badass Bookworm: Sonea becomes this once she learns to read and write. This really surprises her teachers when she becomes the top of her class.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Sonea comes to love Akkarin because, while he's not a very nice person, he didn't treat her any differently over her low social status, and always respected her as a person.
- Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the first trilogy Lorlen and Akkarin are dead, along with at least half of the Guild and a fair chunk of the people left in Imardin; Imardin itself is mostly destroyed. But the Guild makes efforts to start again and to actually help the common people this time by building a hospital; Dannyl and Tayend get to stay together, and Sonea reveals she is pregnant with Akkarin's son.
- Bishōnen: Tayend. Despite Dannyl mentally commenting on this when he first sees him, there are a lot of people who remark on how pretty he is, including a group of pirates who ask Dannyl how much he'll sell him for.
- Black Magic: Well, duh. In this series, Black Magic comes from taking a person's Life Energy. While many users of Black Magic are portrayed as evil, as some Life Energy can be taken without harming the person, the morality of using it is based on whether the Life Energy was given willingly or not. Originally, it was called "higher magic," and practiced by all magicians, but during the Trilogy it's only practiced by Akkarin, the Sachakans and Sonea. After that, the Guild appoints two and only two magicians to know the secrets of Black Magic, and hedges them about with heavy restrictions; while they aren't at all comfortable with the practice, they know that the Sachakans use it, and they recognize the need to fight fire with fire.
- Bury Your Gays: Surprisingly this is averted depending on where you are in the world. In Elyne they're fairly tolerant of it, in Kyralia anyone accused of it can be dishonoured but is not formally punished, and in Sachaka, they just ignore it and pretend it doesn't happen. Played straight in Lonmar, where homosexuals are executed.
- Also averted in that, in a series where Anyone Can Die, four of five named gay characters are alive by the end of the series. Tayend and Dannyl manage to survive being present for both the Ichani Invasion and the Sachakan Civil War.
- But Not Too Gay:
- Dannyl barely manages to scrape onto this side of Have I Mentioned I am Gay?. We know from the third book that he got together with his love interest near the end of the second one, because judging by the information given, the POV of that story was cut off just before it happened, and in the rest of Novice there are only very subtle allusions made to it. And by the third book, the readers know that they are together because they are told so, repeatedly. Unlike the other two romances that run the full gamut from sex to kissing to casual cuddles, these two don't even touch each other until the last 100 pages of the series, at which point they manage to till up a grand total of two hugs and nothing more. And the books have the gall to claim that Everyone Can See It - the characters must be mind readers.
- In the Traitor Spy trilogy, this is averted. Dannyl's relationship with Tayend is seriously on the rocks, but he strikes up a Friends with Benefits relationship with a Sachakan man and it's made very clear that sex is happening. Lilia doesn't get as much sex in, but she does get to kiss her girlfriend on a regular basis.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp":
- The author renames everything to the point of needing a glossary in the back of each book. She justifies this in an interview by saying that coming across the word 'sheep' during a fantasy novel can kinda spoil things.
- It's handled kind of well as there's a group of criminals who tend to take on the names of animals, and these names are usually appropriate. For example, Faren (spider) is very cunning and employs poisons, Ceryni and Ravi (mouse and rat) are physically small but very quick, etc. Naming them Spider, Mouse and Rat wouldn't really sound good - compare it.
- And yet they still have horses...
- Wine also retains its name, even though beer is renamed to "bol".
- Cast from Hit Points: Technically, all magic works like this; your Mana is your Life Energy. Black Magic lets you cast from other people's hit points.
- Closet Key: When Dannyl first meets Tayend, he thinks him beautiful. This is a clue (along with Dannyl almost being kicked out of school for being that way inclined). Dannyl's obliviousness to his own sexuality makes the whole situation more ambiguous. He might just be more open-minded than his peers.
- Lilia also thinks Naki is unusually gorgeous and wonderful at first sight.
- Cool Old Guy: Everyone seems to like Rothen - except for Fergun, and honestly, who gives a toss about Fergun - and he goes to a good deal of trouble to protect Sonea.
- Covers Always Lie: The UK versions feature the main character posing with a staff in a martial-arts esque stance, while the US versions are even worse; one of them has a flaming pegasus on the cover, for no reason whatsoever!
- Downplayed in the Australian release. The Magician's Guild just has a picture of the Guild, The Novice shows Somea and Regin facing off in the arena, and The High Lord shows Somea, Akkarin and the magicians assembled in what looks like the Guildhall. Again, Aussie division publishing seems to be the best out of all of them.
- Cure Your Gays: Dannyl has struggled against rumours about being gay which have ruined his reputation (in his home country at least - others are more open). Eventually, when he is completely out of mana it turns out that he was gay, but he blocked out the memories and has been reflexively using Healing magic to block any sexual impulse for years. Tayend, the gay man he had been travelling with had already figured it out but didn't want to say anything, and they end up becoming a couple.
- Also subverted in that Tayend's father seems to think that the only reason Tayend is gay is because he chooses to be.
- Tayend avoids letting Dannyl use Healing magic on him, fearing that his homosexuality is a sickness that will be detected. Dannyl does learn Tayend's secret by Healing him, but only because Tayend is so nervous that he's unintentionally mentally "shouting" it.
- Color-Coded Wizardry: There's colour coding for the three different disciplines of magic (Warriors wear red robes, Alchemists wear purple robes, and Healers wear green robes) as well as for rank (the heads of each discipline wears a black sash, the King's Advisors wear gold sashes, the Administrators wear blue robes, and the High Lord wears black robes.) The High Lord wears white robes after the Trilogy's end, and black robes are reserved for the Black Magician. Novices wear shorter brown robes and by the second book of the Traitor Spy trilogy Lilia wears brown robes with a black armband in her role as the "black novice".
- Deus Sex Machina/Intimate Healing: The "Lover's Death" allows for a black magician to drain magic through coitus. It's originally shown solely for its use in Death by Sex, but it can also be used nonlethally, just like regular Black Magic. In fact, it's far more pleasurable than regular sex or the regular means of transferring mana.
- Demoted to Extra: Happens to Cery in the second book, but he's brought up to main character status again in the third. Harrin and Donia, on the other hand...
- Does Not Know Her Own Strength: Somea really has no idea exactly how powerful she is until half way through the last book, and all her teachers, including Akkarin, deliberately keep her in the dark for two reasons: 1) so she doesn't get cocky and start relying on her brute strength without fine-tunning her skills, and 2) because they're all quite wary about what exactly she could be capable of if she really applied all her power (and for good reason). When she has Akkarin running to the wire on his mana reserves to try to keep her under control, you really start to get some idea of why all the High Magicians are on edge.
- Everyone Can See It: 2 examples
- The first is with Tayend and Dannyl. Anyone who has been around them for longer than five minutes can see that they're a couple, and when the situation with the rogue magic rebel group arises in Elyne, Akkarin suggested that Dannyl let them "be told a false truth regarding his and Tayend's relationship" in order to gain their trust by supposedly giving them information that they could blackmail him with afterwards. The leader, Dem Marane, calls him out on this in the Hearing and tells the magicians assembled just to look at Tayend and Dannyl together and they'll see that it's the truth. Luckily by this point Dannyl A) had the good sense to leave Tayend on the other side of the ocean to prevent speculation from arising, and B) was able to bluff his way out of it.
- The second is with Sonea and Akkarin, after they start to trust each other and become closer. This is more an inversion, in that anyone who knows either of them well knows something is going on way before they admit their feelings, but no one in the Magician Guild wants to even think about the possibility, especially Rothen and Lorlen, the former who just has to watch Sonea talking to Akkarin to notice something is different (and is subsequently absolutely horrified by the idea and goes into denial about it until long after Sonea and Akkarin are exiled).
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: throughout the series, the Sachakans are a threat because of their practise of black magic, but they have a major flaw in being unable to heal or strenghen each others' magic.
- Fancy Dinner: Akkarin has dinner with Sonea every First Day. With golden cutlery and really nice sounding food.
- Fantasy Slang: There's a second glossary in the back of each book with "Lord Dannyl's Guide to Slum Slang," detailing the particular cant used by dwellers in the Kyralian slums. By the time of the Traitor Spy trilogy, though, it's fallen way out of fashion and even Cery doesn't use it that much.
- Graying Morality: The Traitor Spy Trilogy. There aren't any ichani to make a mess, Sachaka's actual nobility are Affably Evil and not antagonistic towards Kyralia, the Magician's Guild is mostly played as well-meaning but somewhat incompetent, and the Traitors fight for equality between the genders and Slave Liberation, but are actually a Lady Land, treat their men like crap (though better than Sachaka treats their women), suffer quite a bit of He Who Fights Monsters when fighting Sachaka, and try to kill Lorkin for the Sins of His Father. So far, the only unambiguously evil characters we've seen are Naki, Skellin and Lorandra.
- Guilt-Free Extermination War: In The Traitor Queen, the Traitors institute a policy of "no quarter" against the Ashaki, and they know that the Ashaki will give no quarter back. This worries Lorkin just a bit, since he's joined the Traitors and isn't all too happy with their ruthlessness.
- He Is Not My Boyfriend: Sonea's attitude towards Regin in The Traitor Queen, as every Traitor they meet makes the assumption. At the end of the novel, they end up together.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Akkarin narrowly manages to subvert this and comes close to crossing the lines at some points.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Somea frequently limits her power when duelling against any other magician because she's so powerful that she can nearly break the Arena barrier, and so she has to be careful that she doesn't inadvertently kill her duelling partner.
- In Sonea's duel with Regin, she spends the first four rounds (it's a three-out-of-five match) fighting more or less on par with Regin in terms of strength. This is justified; if she'd blatantly steamrolled him with raw power from the get-go, it would just look thuggish. In the fifth round, she stops playing around, cuts loose and nearly kills him; Regin only survives because of Akkarin's timely intervention.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Akkarin, we know, but did you have to be such a jerk about it?
- Improbable Age: an in-context version, as everyone is constantly struck by how young Akkarin is despite him being the High Lord. At the time of The Magician's Guild he's around 30 years old (possibly late twenties), and he still has men and women decades older than him being deferential to him. Despite the fact that it's more his incredibly sharp political acumen, diplomatic insight and intellect than just his great magical prowess that got him the title, it doesn't stop even Lorlen, his best friend, from wondering how he managed it at such a young age. Akkarin seems to be aware of this, because he grows his hair out long and wears it in a ponytail in the style of the old magicians to try to lessen the impact.
- Jerkass Façade: Akkarin is the only person standing between the Ichani and literal annihilation of Kyralia and puts his life on the line more than once to do so, but there is a very good reason why nearly everyone is convinced that he's a cold, heartless bastard, and why Sonea is convinced that he's the Big Bad for quite a while. ... Actually, however near he does come to Jerk with a Heart of Gold territory, even crossing into it, YMMV on whether the "cold, heartless bastard" bit is a facade or not. As Sonea put it:
Sonea: Thinking back, she could not remember him ever expressing disdain or distaste about her origins. He had been threatening, manipulative and cruel, but he had never once reminded her that she had come from the poorest part of the city.
- Killed Off for Real: Cery in The Traitor Queen.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: Sonea becomes the Black Magician at the end of the original trilogy, which is obviously spoiled in The Ambassador's Mission.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Sonea falls under this trope from the virgin side of things. And manages to get pregnant while in the very stressful situation of travelling into exile into a hostile land filled with ruthless stronger magicians, who are hunting them (her and the father) as a prelude to the invasion the country they've just been exiled from. High stress isn't usually conducive to fertility.
- Love Confession: We get a good, if rather odd, one. Akkarin confesses that he began to fall for Sonea after he watched her kill someone with Black Magic. O...kay. It sounds more romantic when you read it.
- Dannyl gets his indirectly via Tayend's sister with a very clear If You Ever Do Anything To Hurt Him message centred around it. Considering that she's not a magician and she still manages to scare him a little with threats of completely ruining his political standing if he hurts her little brother, this is rather impressive.
- Sonea also gets a rather clumsy one from Cery.
- May-December Romance: Akkarin is thirteen years older than Sonea, and also used to be her guardian. She doesn't let that bother her, though.
- Regin starts a rumor that this is going on between Sonea and Rothen (her first guardian who's old enough to be her father at least).
- Magical Society: The Magician's Guild, naturally.
- Manipulative Bitch: Naki. Oh so much. To whit: she befriends the resident Naïve Everygirl, plays Schoolgirl Lesbians with her despite never once returning the feelings, gets her hooked on a Fantastic Drug and manipulates her into learning Black Magic (the mere knowledge of which is forbidden; and which, incidentally, she herself learned, quite deliberately years before). Why? So that she can frame said everygirl when she murders her step-father and runs away to go spend her life working with criminals. And why did she want to do that? Because she couldn't live with the rules imposed on her by her father and the Guild. Oh, and when her unwitting lover desperately breaks out of imprisonment to find her, thinking her to be in mortal danger, she casually and without remorse tries to kill her. Yeah.
- Mind Rape:
- Normally, you can't enter someone else's mind without invitation. Akkarin, however, can forces his way in. It's traumatizing, to say the least.
- What Akkarin went through in the Sachakan wastes was literal mind rape. Day after day after day after day.... When Sonea finds out about it, she's fairly appalled, to say the least.
- Mutant Draft Board: Naturals must be trained by the Guild. This isn't a matter of social control, and more a recognition of the fact that an untrained natural will usually go off like a nuke when she loses control of her ability.
- In a variation, the Guild has pretty much forgotten this at the start of the trilogy - there hadn't been a known case of anyone manifesting magic on their own for centuries, enough that it wasn't really remembered that it was possible. This is a significant part of the drama in the first book, since not only does the Guild have to rediscover forgotten protocols, but it has also picked up a lot of noble prejudice since that last case (for historic and social reasons, magical ability is concentrated in the nobility), which goes about as well as one can expect when there suddenly turns up a very powerful natural from the poor underclasses.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Takan has this view of Akkarin. However, despite his incredible loyalty whatever the circumstances, he still believes that what Akkarin is doing is fundamentally right.
- Neck Snap: A mugger stabs Tayend and Dannyl reacts by slamming him magically into a wall and breaking his neck. That said, Dannyl doesn't ever react well when Tayend is threatened or hurt.
- Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Akkarin. Who knew that he was actually trying to save everyone?
- In a wider sense, so-called 'Black Magic'. Really, it's not inherently evil, it's just capable of running way out of control, as the Guild learned the hard way from Tagin's example.
- Obstructive Code of Conduct: There's a lot of rules set up regarding the Black Magicians' conduct after the Trilogy ends, since one rogue Black Magician and a loyal follower could wipe the floor with the entire Guild if unchecked.
- Outside-Context Villain: So there's an army of Black Magic users coming to attack us? Too bad most of us have no idea what Black Magic even is, much less how to fight it.
- Inverted when these villains don't know how to defend against the offensive uses of Healing magic, as they never invented Healing.
- The far off nation of Igra mentioned in the Traitor Spy trilogy. Used gunpowder "ballthrowers" to conquer all surrounding nations, collectively far larger than the Allied Lands, and have almost completely eliminated the use of magic, except by the priests who hunt down and kill any other magicians. Never properly appears, but it's clear that a conflict between them and the Allied Lands is inevitable.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Magicians. This is more clear in The Magician's Apprentice, where it's made clear early on that non-mages are completely useless in magical warfare, especially when Black Magic gets involved. In all cases, however, magical power is the arm of decision in war. This is especially the case for Sonea; her teachers realize very quickly that she's stronger than half a dozen other magicians, and they work very hard to make sure she's properly trained.
- Power Levels: Magical strength is an inborn trait, and in Kyralia, determines much of a mage's status. Sonea is the strongest magician in the Guild besides the High Lord; this throws a major curveball into the pecking order, since she comes from very humble origins. Turns out, personal strength isn't nearly as important as the Kyralians think it is. Once Black Magic gets involved, resources and numbers matter more than one's own individual power.
- Psychic Static: Sonea tries this against Akkarin when he mind-rapes her, throwing random images at him. His countermeasure is a Poke in the Third Eye.
- Psychic Surgery: What healing magic actually is: Telekinetically repairing the body, normally assisted by medical equipment and herbal drugs. The Ichani do not know of this application of magic, as such it is used against them.
- The Scapegoat: In The Rogue Lilia is accused of murdering Naki's father, and she's found with blood on her hands and knowledge of Black Magic. Sonea reads her mind and can't find any evidence of it happening, but she's ordered to be depowered and imprisoned (effectively for life) for the crime of learning Black Magic anyway. Naki killed him, concealed her own involvement with a mind-blocking stone, and set Lilia up to take the fall.
- Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Averted. Adult Regin is a pretty square fellow, albeit staunchly conservative.
- Someone to Remember Him By
- Spanner in the Works: In The Rogue, Naki had a mind-blocking stone, which allowed her to resist a mind probe and fob the blame for her father's murder off on Lilia because the Guild didn't know about that kind of magic. Unfortunately, right before her second trial, Dannyl learned about that kind of magic and just happened to mention it to the Administrator, who put two and two together immediately.
- Squishy Wizard: Sonea wins a critically important duel, that would determine whether she could continue as a commoner to learn magic, simply by the fact that her opponent had never done any exercise, and in a later scene couldn't even punch hard enough to leave a bruise on her shoulder. Sonea on the other hand was more than capable of breaking his nose and bruising his eyes badly enough to leave him blind until treated.
- Although a lot of magicians (read: most) fall into this category, this trope is played with a bit: magicians are made physically stronger and more healthy than normal people by the constant flow of magical energy through their bodies. Magicians also have a stronger "inner shield" and can survive drowning and being buried underground by using a shield to protect their bodies and supply them with a limited amount of oxygen.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Cery's sub plot in the traitor spy trilogy is kicked off when his wife and kids are murdered, providing angst and motivation for him.
- Training from Hell: Of a sort: Akkarin approves of Sonea constantly being accosted, attacked, and practically tortured by up to twenty bullying novices, in the hopes it will toughen her up. Although Akkarin knows Sonea is much more powerful than she thinks—eventually, undeniably more powerful than all her tormentors combined—she doesn't realize this and is absolutely terrified each time it happens.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Akkarin forcibly reads the thoughts of Lorlen, Rothen, and Sonea. He has good reasons for doing it, but that doesn't change the fact that he essentially mindrapes his best friend, an old man, and a scared girl barely twenty years old. Lorlen and Rothen call him on it.
- Wizard Duel:
- Sonea eventually gets fed up with Regin's cruelty and challenges him to one of these. She then proceeds to wipe the floor with him by the final round. Then, to not quite rub it in, she heals him. In your haughty rich face, Regin.
- Later on in the plot it's revealed that Akkarin has been fighting and killing Sachakan magician spies on a regular basis.
- Wizarding School: The Guild maintains one.
- Wrong Context Magic: The Guild doesn't know about magic that can block mind-reading, which means that Naki expected to get off scot-free for her crimes, until Dannyl discovered it and told the Administrator by complete coincidence.
- Yaoi Guys: Dannyl and Tayend. The relationship that develops between them is not sexually explicit and took until the end of the first trilogy, however.