The Ambasador’s Mission, released in April 2011, is the first book in the continuing saga of Sonea, and a few other characters, from Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician Trilogy (circa 2001). We rejoin Sonea, her son, and Cery for further adventures.
The Ambassador’s Mission, as far as its own story goes, drags. The narrative is chalked full of superfluous text that drowns out more important aspects in favor of droning political intrigue. When read as a continuation of The Black Magician Trilogy, some of this is forgivable. But, anyone picking up this story without having read the former will be seriously wanting for explanations.
For example, Sonea is often talked about as being a powerful Black Magician, but the meaning of such is never thoroughly explained to the reader through showing or telling. Everyone fears her, but you are never given a good reason as to why this is, other than the insinuation that she wields some sort of powerful magic. You can, to an extent, understand Canavan’s unwillingness to rehash such things or give concrete examples of why Sonea is both powerful and feared, but, conversely, you can understand why readers will easily feel that they are not being given a story that is complete.
If the intent is to get people to go back and reread (or read for the first time) her original series to gain some context, it certainly succeeded in that aspect. I found myself having to constantly refer to the previous story to reacquaint myself with the missing pieces of this new tale.
From start to finish however, the first book of the Traitor Spy Trilogy feels like the author understood that she had three sizable tomes to fill, and by gosh by golly she was going to do it. The story lacks focus, bouncing around between several characters. Not such a major problem in and of itself, as many stories do this. But not one of the characters we are treated to (Sonea, her son Lorkin, Ambassador Dannyl, or Cery) makes a grab at being the story’s central character (ie. THE protagonist).
Worse, the lack of a clear protagonist leads to an even more fatal flaw, which is the extremely ill-defined antagonist. Three quarters of the way into the book and I still could not figure out who (or what) was the source of tension driving the narrative. Was it Sonea’s fellow magicians who distrusted her despite her status as a hero? Was it the Thief Hunter who murdered Cery’s family? Was it the Traitors, some of whom wanted Lorkin dead and some of whom didn’t? None of these plot elements establishes itself to any great extent.
In the end, when the final page was turned, the antagonist, the one (or thing) driving this story forward, is still a muddled mess. There is no climax to the first book. The action level of the narrative remains pretty much constant from start to finish with only minor upticks at times, leaving it feeling flat and unfulfilling. About as close as we come to a climax is Sonea capturing the rogue magician in a very anti-climactic, quick, and far too easy test of her “mighty” powers.
Overall, I was very disappointed. The next two books of this series were on my to read list, but I am now forced to reconsider if I want to continue to journey into the further adventures of Sonea. Book 1 of The Traitor Spy trilogy gets a rating of 2.75 out of 5 stars.