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The Novice is the second book in the The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan. It was published in 2002 and is the sequel to The Magicians' Guild and is followed by The High Lord. The book continues the story of a young girl named Sonea as she discovers and learns to control her magical powers; in The Novice, she has agreed to study at the Magicians' Guild under the protection of her new guardian Lord Rothen.
Sonea, formerly a slum girl—or "dwell"—begins her studies as a novice at the Magicians' Guild. The road ahead, however, will not be an easy one, as at the guild's formal acceptance ceremony, Sonea finds everyone from her fellow novices and their families to even some of the magicians themselves look down upon her lowly background. Worst among these is Regin, an arrogant novice who quickly moves to turn the other students against Sonea and put her "where she belongs" through constant and degrading harassment. Regin's rumor that Sonea shares a bed with her guardian, Lord Rothen, forces her to move in with the other novices and subjecting her to more of their bullying.
Meanwhile, Administrator Lorlen hopes to discover some way to counter the High Lord's powers in black magic, black magic is considered evil in the guild who know about it, by studying his past travels across the Allied Lands. To that end, he sends Lord Dannyl (now Second Ambassador to Elyne) to seek out information about the High Lord's past and the ancient magics he may have studied. Along the way, Dannyl strikes a friendship with Tayend, a librarian from Elyne who had once been offered study at the Magicians' Guild but who had turned it down for fear of being discovered as a "lad", or homosexual.
Regin works to turn even the teachers against Sonea by framing her as a thief, an accusation which is widely believed due to her coming from the slums and her unwillingness to submit to a truthreading (which could disastrously reveal the High Lord's involvement in black magic). To escape Regin's constant bullying, Sonea studies hard and joins the class a half a year ahead of theirs, but Regin soon follows. When Lord Dorrien, Rothen's 24-year-old son, comes to visit his father, he befriends Sonea and helps her get even with Regin by causing the bully to be caught trying to plant more stolen goods on Sonea. He also teaches Sonea levitation and shows her a secret place he visited when he needed relief from the stress of study, reminding her that fun is part of being a magician. Though Lord Dorrien must return to his distant posting as a rural healer, Sonea has at last made a true friend, and the two kiss before parting.
Sonea's happiness does not last long, however, as during exams the High Lord summons her, claiming guardianship over her. He has read Administrator Lorlen's mind and discovered that Sonea, Rothen, and Lorlen are all aware of his use of black magic, and by taking her hostage as his "favored novice," the High Lord ensures both her cooperation and that of the Administrator and Lord Rothen.
Meanwhile, a series of strange murders has plagued the slums: murders that have all the hallmarks of black magic. Administrator Lorlen is kept abreast of the murders by a family friend in the city's guard and suspects the High Lord's involvement, as does Sonea when she discovered the killings during a visit to her family in the slums. At the same time, Lord Dannyl's investigations of the High Lord's past nearly get him killed when he discovers the "Chamber of Ultimate Punishment", a cave that attacks magicians with magic. In the aftermath of the attack, Lord Dannyl realises that he too is homosexual, and he has been hiding it using magic.
Despite Sonea's position as the High Lord's favorite (which earns her much preferential treatment from her teachers), Regin's harassment of her only intensifies. He and other novices begin ambushing her in the halls and torturing her with magic. The High Lord does nothing to stop Regin's bullying, seeing the rivalry as Sonea's "best teacher" and something that will ensure her continued growth of power, and he forbids Sonea from using the hidden passages beneath the University to escape Regin and his friends.
At Lord Dorrien's suggestion, Sonea challenges Regin to a formal duel in the Arena. She works hard to train for the battle, which through skill (rather than brute strength) she wins 3 to 2, and her healing of the unconscious Regin after the battle only reinforces her newly-won respect from her peers and teachers.
Before she can enjoy the victory, however, Sonea witnesses the High Lord kill a man from Sachaka. The High Lord Akkarin explains the man was an assassin sent to kill him, but Sonea is not sure what to believe.
Treatment of HomosexualityEdit
A minor theme in the story is the discovery by one of the characters that he is homosexual. In Kyralia being homosexual is not illegal but is a big taboo. Homosexuals are disowned by their families and friends and often sent out of their homes in exile. If a magician is a homosexual then they are sent to work on a project far away from the Guild.
Other countries in the Trilogy range in their treatment of homosexuality from execution to acceptance (albiet an acceptance that is based on a don't ask don't tell principle).