In anticipation of the sequel’s release this fall, I’m currently re-reading Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic, and enjoying it just as much as I did the first time round. It tells two parallel stories, set in two different worlds. In a society whose industry is powered by magic, Tyen discovers a sapient book that forces him to question the world he knows. In a desert city ruled by priests, Rielle has magical ability that she must keep hidden, for only priests – who are exclusively male – may wield the gift of the Angels. Though the worlds are clearly discrete, however, they are bound together by the same magic.
One of the problems I have with a lot of epic fantasy is it seems to take a long time to set up various POVs and storylines; if it’s not immediately clear how the different plotlines fit together, I find it hard to become immersed in the story. Because we spend the first 120 pages in Tyen’s POV, however, I don’t have this problem with Thief’s Magic; by the time Rielle shows up, Tyen’s storyline is well off the ground and, while I felt a little dismayed at the thought that it would be another hundred-odd pages before I found out what had happened to him, I soon became absorbed in Rielle’s tale, and I was glad to have the time to get into her perspective before switching back to Tyen’s. Moreover, after becoming situated in each world the sections pertaining to each POV become shorter, so that by the end there’s only a chapter or two at a time before switching character.
Yet they’re linked by the descriptors of magic’s residue: whether it’s called Soot or Stain, it’s clear that it’s the same product. The names used reveal much about the cultural attitudes towards magic of two different societies. In Tyen’s world, magic is used to power printing presses and flying machines, while in Rielle’s it is a gift from the Angels, and only permitted for use by priests. Together with what we learn about other worlds from Tyen’s sentient book, Vella, it’s clear that these two stories bear some relationship to each other, even though we don’t yet know how.
One of my favourite things about Canavan’s novels is her world-building. In Thief’s Magic, we get a steampunk-esque island culture and a deeply religious desert city. Both are beautifully developed, with all the small touches that make it so easy to fall into the world. Moreover, as an Australian, she tends to set her stories in the southern hemisphere of their particular planets; that is, for both Tyen and Rielle (as well as Sonea from the Black Magician trilogy), cooler climates lie to the south. It’s a refreshing change from the usual European fantasy world.
With compelling characters and lush world-building, Thief’s Magic is a must-read for anyone looking for a unique epic fantasy.
Nicola is an English Lit graduate living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is passionate about books by and about women, neither of which she got much of during her degree. You can follow her on her blog, Twitter andTumblr.