The Novice is the second book in The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan. It was published in 2002 and is the sequel to The Magicians' Guild (2001) and is followed by The High Lord (2003). 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, and swears to Lord Rothen and another magician, Administrator Lorlen, to keep secret that the High Lord, Akkarin, is using forbidden black magic.
Sonea, formerly a slum girl—or "dwell"—begins her studies as a novice at the Magicians' Guild as part of the summer intake. Sonea does not have life easy, particularly with her rival and fellow pupil, Regin, who does his best to make Sonea's life at the Guild a living hell.
She tries to ignore him at first but it only gets worse as Regin begins to circulate rumours about Rothen (her mentor) and her having a relationship. Though they truthfully deny this, Lorlen is forced to move Sonea to the Novice's Quarters to quell the rumours. Sonea, unable to take the bullying, studies hard and is promoted to the winter intake. The studies are harder and the students more mature, so the bullying does not continue in her new class. However, nor do the children befriend her, except for a slow-learner named Porril. Later, Regin is also promoted to Sonea's class, and with his old classmates from the summer intake continues to bully her. He frames her by putting one of her classmate's gold pens in her box, and she is accused of stealing. However, she can not prove her innocence since if she were 'truth-read' (her mind read by another magician), then the truth would come out about Akkarin's (the High Lord's)use of black magic, putting herself and those she cares about in danger.
Meanwhile, Administrator Lorlen hopes to discover some way to counter Akkarin's powers in black magic (considered evil and forbidden in the guild), by studying the High Lord's past travels across the Allied Lands. Lorlen sends Lord Dannyl (now Second Ambassador to Elyne) to seek out information about the ancient magic which he may have studied. Dannyl is assisted by Tayend, a librarian from Elyne, who was also Akkarin's past helper. Tayend at first is terrified of magic, but it later turns out this is because he is afraid his homosexuality will be revealed. This is frowned upon in Elyne. Dannyl finds out Tayend's secret late in the story when healing him, and though surprised at first, eventually admits he too is homosexual, and the two begin a relationship.
Lord Rothen's son, Dorrien, is a healer working in the countryside near Sachaka. He visits his father and befriends Sonea. He learns of the bullying and later sets a trap to catch Regin trying to frame Sonea by putting something from the library into her box. Dorrien teaches Sonea levitation, and the two gradually begin to become attracted to each other. On the day he leaves, Dorrien kisses Sonea for the first time.
The High Lord, becoming suspiscious about what he knows, eventually force-reads Administrator Lorlen's mind and discovers that Sonea, Rothen, and Lorlen are all aware of his use of black magic. He gives Lorlen a ring that enables the High Lord to hear and see everything Lorlen does as well as privately mind-speak to him. Akkarin decides to claim guardianship over Sonea to ensure that as long as she remains "hostage", Rothen and Lorlen cannot reveal anything that will jeopardize Sonea's safety whilst she will also stay quiet in order to protect them.
In the city, a number of murders have plagued the slums: deaths that have 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.
Akkarin learns that Sonea's weakest subject is Warrior Skill and Lord Yikmo (the department head in this subject) is made to be her teacher. Later, Yikmo discovers that Sonea is cautious with her powers since she is both against violence and aware that her powers are stronger, by how much she does not know, than the other students, and does not want to hurt them, even if they continue to harass her. Despite Sonea's position as the High Lord's favourite, Regin's harassment of her only intensifies. He and other novices begin ambushing her in the halls and torturing her with magic. Sonea shields herself from these attacks but always ends up unable to hold them off indefinitely. However, her power continues to grow as she fends off stronger and stronger attacks from larger numbers of pupils. Eventually, Yikmo and Lorlen find her being attacked, and, though she begs them not to tell Akkarin, they feel they must. However, it becomes clear that The High Lord is already aware of this and has done nothing to stop Regin's bullying, since he has noticed how much it is increasing her power.
Dorrien comes back for another visit and Lorlen tells Rothen to discourage him from having a relationship with Sonea. Sonea, fearing for Dorrien's safety, decides to put an end to any relationship there may have been. 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. The Higher Magicians are shocked however at the extent of power Sonea has displayed.
At the end of the story, 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.