Thief’s Magic, by Trudi Canavantheifs

Sometimes when you go out for dinner, you look for dining at its finest:  complex flavors, exquisite execution, immaculate presentation and ambiance.  Sometimes, though, you just want a big ol’ hamburger and a heaping helping of fries.

Trudi Canavan’s opening novel of her Millennium’s Rule trilogy, Thief’s Magic, is a big, juicy burger, indeed.  No, it’s not fancy – in fact, the writing can be plodding and simplistic at times -but the story line (or in this case, story lines) are full and satisfying.

Thief’s Magic tells two tales.  It opens with Tyen Ironsmelter, a student at Leratia’s Academy hoping to become a sorcerer-archeologist, when an artefact collecting expedition finds him in possession of a magical book which gathers and stores information through touch.  It turns out the book used to be a living, breathing woman from another world; “Vella” is thousands of years old and holds knowledge from many different worlds; she can also communicate through words that appear on her pages, distilled from the holder’s thoughts.  When the Academy professors learn of Vella, they deem her to be dangerous and lock her away in their magically secured vault.  Tyen, with the help of a former professor turned renegade, breaks into the vault to rescue Vella but finds himself the unwitting dupe in a plot to use her for personal gain.  He is forced to flee the Academy, and Leratia itself, with little more than his wits, his magical ability, and the treasured book.

The second tale is of young Rielle Lazuli, a dyemaster’s daughter, who has a terrifying secret:  she can see “stain” – the residue left behind following the use of magic.  Using magic is strictly forbidden in Fyre, especially for women; anyone other than sanctioned priests who perform even the smallest of magical acts are considered tainted, and can be imprisoned or banished.  Just being able to perceive stain (and hence have the potential to perform magic) leads to intense scrutiny and distrust, so Rielle tells no one of her ability and lives in constant fear of being found out.  But she has other, more youthful concerns:  her classmates at the Temple consider her inferior due to her family’s trade, and she fears that her lack of social standing will never lead her into a desirable marriage.  When a run in with a tainted threatens to reveal her secret, she is “rescued” by the most pleasurably alarming deliverer:  the charming, handsome artist, Izare Saffre.  Rielle is smitten, even though artists are considered of lower standing than merchants.  Now she has two things to hide:  her potential for magic, and her love of a man who her family could never accept.

These two stories are kept completely separate in this first volume of Ms. Canavan’s trilogy – a device that is often jarring, but in this case works quite well.  Tyen and Rielle’s experiences are so drastically different that we are never tempted to draw parallels, leaving us to simply enjoy each one unfolding on its own.  Yet both of the young protagonists have a very endearing quality:  each of them, while drawn into deception, want nothing more than to do the right thing, even when what is “right” becomes increasingly hard to determine.

As I said, Thief’s Magic is not highbrow literature.  But one cannot live on a diet of Thomas Pynchon or Kim Stanley Anderson alone.  Sometimes, the joys of simple escapism is exactly what one hungers for – and, indeed, if that’s what you’re looking for, then Thief’s Magic is sure to deliver.

—Sharon Browning

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