Monday, March 17, 2014

What we're reading: Continuation of a series

Some of the book club members read The Circle of Magic books (Sandry's Book, Tris's Book, Briar's Book, and Daja's Book) by Tamora Pierce one year over the summer. Battle Magic returns us to that world of Emelan and Winding Circle created in her two quartets and two single sequels: The Circle of Magic quartet, The Circle Opens quartet, The Will of the Empress, and Melting Stones (the last two sometimes included under the series name The Circle Reforged).

It's nice to be back in this world, with the added advantage that Briar and Rosethorn, accompanied by apprentice Evvumeimei (Evvy), have gone out to see the other side of the world, which gives them a wider stage. This book is a prequel, of sorts, to the last two books, since the action takes place between the second quartet (specifically the book about Briar and Evvy, called Street Magic) and The Will of the Empress, in which it is noted that all of the members of the quartet have been traveling with their mentor mages and are now reunited.

After staying with the youthful God-King in Gyongxe, the three from Winding Circle take a detour on their way home, to visit the Yanjing emperor's palace, presumably so Rosethorn (and Briar) can experience its fabled gardens. (Evvy likes gardens too, but only for the rocks, and no rock would dare sully the perfection of the emperor's garden!) There they are treated to the spectacle of horrors visited on all and sundry who dare to displease His Imperial Majesty Weishu in the slightest of ways, and learn to their dismay that he has plans to invade and conquer Gyongxe, center of the world's religions. Rosethorn feels bound by her vows to Living Circle to return there to warn the God-King, Briar and Evvy aren't about to let her go by herself, and things get sticky for all of them and their new friends and allies as the emperor seeks revenge.

I enjoyed this…but not as much as I did some of the other books in this series. Honestly, there was too much preparation for fighting, fighting, and recovering from fighting to keep the story fresh and on track for me. I did enjoy the whimsical notes Pierce introduced with the creation of various mythical beings who interact with the humans in the story, but we really didn't learn much of anything new about ambient magic, and there was a little too much gloating that "regular" mages just didn't "get it," without explanations of how their magic differed.

I do like the concept of ambient magic--that magic is intrinsically rooted in water, air, earth and fire rather than being something foreign that is created out of nowhere by humans--it makes sense to me that magic is "called out" from some source. I never have figured out how magic is just conjured out of nothing in many fantasy world views! And the descriptions in the book, particularly those given in explanation of Evvumeimei's gifts, were enjoyable. But it would be nice to have a better understanding of both sides of magic, how they differ, and how they could work together instead of oppose or show one another up.

Please note: If you haven't read any of the other books, you would be truly and completely lost and baffled--this is definitely a sequel, not a stand-alone. But if you liked the other books, definitely try this one. My rating: 3.5.


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