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This is the first in the 'Age of the Five' trilogy, and is one of my favourite fantasy books; I've read it and its sequels many times. The story is set in the world of Ithania, where most people follow the Circlian religion, and focuses on Auraya, who is at first an ordinary village girl, but then rises to become one of the most powerful priestesses in the land.
The story begins in Auraya's home village of Oralyn, where she lives with her family and her tutor, Leiard. When the village is besieged by outlawed Dunwayans, only Auraya has the courage to speak against them, which brings her to the attention of one of the White, the five immortal priests and priestesses who serve the five gods. She offers Auraya a place in the priesthood.
Fast-forward ten years and Auraya herself has joined the ranks of the White, chosen by the gods themselves. Now she must learn how to be the gods' representative on earth; learn the magic necessary to protect her people, and the diplomatic skills to negotiate with other nations. Her job will not be easy however. At large in the land are the remnants of an outlawed group known as the Dreamweavers. The Dreamweavers have magic of their own, separate from that granted by the gods, and they have memories from before the war between all the gods, when most were killed, and only the Five remained. Because of this, the Five gods hate them, but Auraya does not find it easy to obey their will in this, for her childhood friend Leiard is a Dreamweaver. When he visits her in her new role, she begins to wonder if it is only friendship between them, or if her feelings go deeper than that. But there are more pressing matters at hand; the threat of invasion from the Pentadrians, a group who worship different gods, and are on a religious crusade. Auraya and the rest of the White cannot face invasion alone, so they must seek alliance with other Circlians; the Siyee, tiny half-human, half-bat-like creatures, and the Elai, which are like mermaids. The White must find a way to unite their people against the threat, but how can Auraya manage this when she is suffering religious doubts herself?
The plot is immensely complicated, with many different sub-plots. Some people may find it a little slow in places, but I love books like this, as I feel the presence of so many different aspects of the story help to create a world full of realism. While it is not particularly action-packed, I really appreciate the time spent building up a realistic world and realistic characters. Trudi Canavan has done a fantastic job of creating a fantasy world that is completely her own. This can get a little confusing at times, with lots of new names for people, places, and objects, but there is a glossary at the back to help if people get lost. The characters themselves are fully three-dimensional; they have their good points, they have their bad points, they have their own motivations, but most importantly, they feel like real people, and you really care about what happens to them. The book's greatest strength is in its tackling of difficult themes, in particular, what it has to say about religion; both the gods themselves and the people who worship them. Overall, I adored the book, the storyline, and the characters. I know it may be a bit slow for some readers, but for those who prefer books to take their time, this will be perfect.
Many people will come to Trudi Canavan's "Age of the Five" trilogy, having read her successful "Black Magician" trilogy, and I've seen a lot of people prefer her earlier output.
However, Priestess of the White is an imaginative, well written series, set in an incredibly well thought out world. Canavan spends time developing the main character, Auraya, giving insights into her thoughts and feelings and her interaction with others in the world around her, and the turmoil she finds herself in, whilst simultaneously introducing subplots and other characters who may become important to Auraya in the future.
This can make the book tricky to follow in places, with new names, races and religions being introduced all the time, but eventually these stories start to interweave, with the significance becoming clearer as the book builds to its conclusion.
This novel is extremely well thought out, leading perfectly into the second of the series, it leaves many questions unanswered which makes it almost impossible not to jump straight into Last of the Wilds (which is slightly easier to get into).
The only critisicm would be the occasional bout of bad editing. I found some spelling mistakes, a little bit of bad punctuation, and in the final book of the trilogy, a character refered to by a slightly different name etc. But on the whole, this isn't enough to stop you enjoying the book.