Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Circle of Magic

by Tamora Pierce
Start Date: 30 September 2011
End Date: 9 October 2011

Sandry's Book
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Scholastic

Of the four Circle of Magic books, Sandry's Book is the one I had the most and fondest memories of. Sandry's Book, more than any other book in the quartet, this one focuses on the characters more than the actual events that take place. In the other Circle of Magic books, there is  one central goal throughout the book (although perhaps not the focus of the entire book). In Sandry's Book, however, the focus is on each of the four characters' development individually and as a group.

Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar are four children (young adults, really) who come from very different backgrounds, but each for some reason or another find themselves alone. Sandry comes from a noble family, hidden away when sickness (a pox, I think) strikes the family, and a mob takes over the estate, leaving her orphaned. Tris, a merchant's daughter, is considered by her family to be unnatural and possibly possesed because of the strange things that happen, such as lightning striking without a storm when she is upset, and is sent away from home. Daja is a Trader, the only survivor of a shipwreck. When she is rescued, she is deemed trangshi, bad luck, and therefore is forbidden to have contact with any other Traders. Briar, called Roach at the beginning of the book, is a "street rat" who burgles and picks pockets for a living. He has been caught a third time and is about to be sentenced to life's labor at the docks. They are each discovered by the mage Niklaren Goldeye, or Niko, as he is called, and taken to the Winding Circle temple, where they learn magic based on ordinary skills. Sandry's magic has to do with weaving and threadwork, Tris is a weather mage, Daja works with metals, and Briar has plant magic.

This series was not Pierce's first, but it seemed that she used this book to really get to know the characters before diving into the crises of the other books. In hindsight, this makes sense as the four main characters must come together to overcome all of the challenges they face. As a character person (well, I'm an everything person, but I like strongly developed characters), Sandry's book and the series as a whole was refreshingly character-centered. Within the book, the story switches between the four, which may frustrate some (although it stays in third person), but it was one of my favorite parts. The secondary characters, such as Niko or their guardians at Discipline (where they live within Winding Circle), Lark and Rosethorn, all of the characters are well developed, one of Pierce's obvious strengths.

Sandry's book was written for a middle grade audience, so it was nice to take a break in some ways, even though I was reading more than I usually do. The books are not overly complex, but they are well-written and fun to read. They not nearly as intense as many YA books, and although intense, high-speed, plot-based books are often fantastic, it's nice to have a break.  And although I feel like I'm contradicting myself, I have to mention that they're not overly light and fluffy. Although they're not books that keep you from sleeping until you finish, they have complex characters with struggles of their own, and not everything ties up nicely, just as they don't in life.

Overall Thoughts: A good opening to the series. Very character driven. No set goal established at the beginning of the book - the characters need to find each other before they can work together. A strong MG.


Tris's Book
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 1st 1998 by Scholastic

In Tris's Book, Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar have lasted together through the events of Sandry's Book and are recovering and continuing with their training when rumors of approaching pirates turn out to be more than merely rumors, and each of the children's skills is needed in order to defeat pirate invaders.

After  the very character-driven Sandry's Book, the beginning of Tris's Book was a little bit disappointing. It seemed like nothing much was happening, and that it was a lot of routine and learning this or that, but after the first third, it really picks up, and both the character development and the plot get far more interesting.

Overall Thoughts: Although by far not the best book in the four, if you enjoyed Sandry's Book, Tris's Book is ultimately worth reading.

Daja's Book
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by Scholastic

In Daja's book, the four main characters, along with their mentors and Sandry's uncle, Duke Verdris, travel to Gold Ridge Valley, a province in North Emelan, where the residents are struggling with drought and fires. Our heroes are called upon to control the fires sweeping the area and threatening those living there. Additionally, the magic of the four young mages is blending together, creating unexpected and sometimes dangerous results. Daja accidentally creates a living piece of metal that grows as a plant does, and when a group of Traders want to purchase it from her, giving her another taste of her family's culture and her life before Winding Circle, she must reevaluate who she is and who she would like to be.

The first two books in the Circle of Magic series are good, but I think Daja's book is where Pierce begins to hit her stride. Pierce manages to create an exciting and fast-paced plot while keeping the character development of the earlier books. In fact, I'd say there's more development in Daja's Book than Tris's Book. Also, Daja's Book gives the reader their first glance outside of Winding Circle. Although the story ventures into the city some in earlier books, Sandry's Book and Tris's Book both take place almost entirely within Winding Circle.

Overall Thoughts: An excellent addition to the series. A great blend of characters and action, of complex problems and digestible writing.


Briar's Book
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Scholastic

Briar's Book was my favorite of the four. Each character came into his or her strength during the course of the book, and although in the previous books Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar had to deal with earthquakes, pirates, and fire, in Briar's Book the stakes seemed higher than ever.

When visiting the city of Summersea near the Winding Circle temple, Briar likes to hang out with his "street rat" friends and relive a bit of his life from when he was Roach, before he became a mage. On one such trip, he is not greeted by his usual friend, Flick, and is instead fetched by another boy who takes him into the sewers where Flick has fallen ill with a blue pox. Briar and Rosethorn bring her to an infirmary to take care of her, but it soon becomes clear that this pox is a plague sweeping Summersea - and that it is deadly. Time is running out, and each in the Circle of Magic must contribute in order to find a cure for the pox.

Note: Briar's Book is not the best read for when you're sick. Just mentioning.

Overall Thoughts: Great. The best of the four.

General Series notes:
In all of Pierce’s books (including the Song of the Lioness books) there are some repetitive lines, especially when describing secondary characters. For example, Pierce mentions Duke Verdris several times “wearing power like a cloak.” The primary characters, however, are fully fleshed out, and a pleasure to read about.

Although Briar's Book was great, it did not necessarily feel like a conclusion to the series. Thankfully, there are several more books about Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar, starting with the Circle Opens quartet, which I will definitely be picking up soon. The Circle of Magic is highly recommended for middle grade readers who like character-strong books.

4 comments:

Small Review said...

This sounds so good! I have a few of them, but sadly I have not read any Tamora Pierce books yet (and I call myself a fantasy fan!) Someday I WILL read them.

I love how you outlined the whole series here. I'm going to reread this post when I start the series (whenever that will be!) so I know which parts to get through and when things are great. Thank you so much!

And thank you SO much for adding our button to your sidebar! I really hope you enjoy our event :D

Pica said...

I think you'll like Tamora Pierce. I preferred the first two Alanna books to the first two Circle of Magic books, but I thought Circle of Magic as a whole was a stronger series.

I'm glad you liked the series review. I thought if I wrote a separate review for each book, I'd end up repeating myself a lot, and the books work so well together.

And you're welcome! I'm so excited for the Event of the Season!

Alexa said...

It's lovely to meet another Tamora Pierce fan! I've read this series before, and I really loved it. It's actually my favorite, even moreso than Alanna. My penultimate favorite series from her is The Immortals though :)

Pica said...

I love Tamora Pierce too! I agree that Circle of Magic was better than Alanna, although the Alanna books always seem to get the most attention. I read The Immortals a few years ago, and I don't remember liking it that much, but I'll have to give it another try.

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