Friday, October 4, 2013

The Darkly Epic Circle Opens Quartet

So, I held off and did this whole series at once because I find it really interesting to look at these books together in comparison to the first series.

In The Circle Opens our four mages have separated and gone off to different locations. Sandry is staying with her uncle after he has a heart attack, Briar has been waylaid traveling with Rosethorn, Daja is studying the work of iron smiths in the north, and Tris is exploring the world of glass blowing and magic in the far south. The really cool thing about this series is that we got to see them thrown together and bound together and learn that they had to rely on each other in the first series and in this one, they can't even mindspeak anymore. They're too far away for that and so they have to learn to be their own people, something they haven't had the chance to do since they discovered that they have magic. They have to learn to solve problems by looking at it from their own angles, without the added input of the others that they'd learned to rely on.

This series is also substantially darker than the series before. Pierce does not shy away from dealing with some really harsh issues.
While all being separate books, each about one of the four there are really obvious parallels. They each get sucked into solving some form of crime, and they each get thrown into some form of teaching scenario, their teachers are all only semi-available, leaving them to work out many problems on their own. The first two books parallel each other far more than the other two. It was a little like Tamora Pierce decided to stray from her set path a little more, as if she decided to take her outline a little more loosely.

The first book is Magic Steps, the one about Sandry. I said before that Sandry was always my least favorite of the four. She still is but I enjoyed this book more than I have previously. Sandry, I think, is the character who shows the least amount of growth. She's still a good character but I think her rank, has set it up that she never had much room to grow because she was never really a child. And that's okay for her as a character but puts her at a bit of a disadvantage when you can see how the others have grown.

She discovers a boy who uses dance magic, a form borderline unheard of before. She, of course, isn't a dance mage but with no one else there must undertake teaching him. He's stubborn and a bit twitchy and from a family of (essentially) police. He doesn't think dancing can be of any use. Of course by the end they realize that it is.

The most interesting thing about Magic Steps is the foe that Sandry faces. There are a series of murders involving warring merchant families. But the murderers are using unmagic. It's something that hasn't been encountered in the series yet. Unmagic eats away at people. Making them apathetic and it wants to devour magic. The mage it comes from is legless and addicted to drugs. In the book Sandry is forced to spin it into a net. It's a really dark substance and in the end Sandry must use it to kill the three murderers. They essentially explode. It's not a simple story. The darkness is what drove the plot and kept me most involved.

In Street Magic, Briar's book, the plot wasn't the most interesting thing to me. In a parallel to Magic Steps, Briar finds a mage girl on the street who doesn't realize she has magic. Instead of with plants, it's with stone. And the only other stone mage in the city is not one who works well with Evvy, his new student, and he is forced to take her on. There are warring street gangs in this one. One of them is controlled by a bored noble. That part of the story didn't interest me all that much. I found the gang wars a bit tiring.

The characters are brilliant in this one though. This one was much more about the interactions between them. It was great to see Briar interact with the gangs, given his own history in one. The new, noble controlled gang breaks many of the unspoken gang rules. The way he reacts shows how he's grown from the street boy that Niko finds. He takes responsibility and fights so hard for his own. We never got to see the influence Tris' teaching had on him until this book. He and her have a lot of similar traits that have been highlighted.

Seeing him interact with Evvy, who sees plants as stone killers, is brilliant. They have the similar street rat and distrust in them that is so at odds with the rivalry in their magic. Each of them also have a stubborn streak a mile wide.

I had a similar reaction to Cold Fire that I did to Magic Steps. The difference being that I really like Daja, but the foe that she faces was really interesting.

I always liked that Daja is pretty much endlessly practical. She's not one to get caught up in fancy of any kind. But in Cold Fire she meets Ben, a man who lost his family in a fire and spends his time trying to teach a city mad entirely out of wood, the basics of fire fighting. She immediately takes to him, admiring that he selflessly dedicates his time to trying to save people.

Daja finds two students. One with cooking power and one with carpentry. She finds them teachers fairly quickly and it only charged with teaching them to meditate. This is how she is different. She isn't left teaching them at the end. They're nobles and have fairly common magic.

Ben is fascinating because we get to see bits and pieces of things from his point of view and he's pretty much crazy. He is setting the fires, first because he wants to teach the citizens how to fight them and there haven't been any fires naturally. He sets empty buildings on fire. Then they become a power play. When the city won't give him more funds he starts burning homes and then putting explosives in public places. But through all of this, he is still friends with Daja. She still thinks she's helping him. He sees her as this sort of fire goddess because she can walk among it. He sort of starts worshiping her. It's really twisted.

Shatterglass is my favorite of the four books. Then, Tris has always been my favorite character. Tris is the same short-tempered, tart, bookish character that we saw before but now she has a very healthy respect for limitations. She knows that all of her actions have consequences but has a short fuse for injustices. I think she proves to have grown the most responsible of the four in a practical way. She, of course, has that practicality that I love so much but with it is a certain imaginative fancy.

She's the most powerful in the group, if only because of the nature of her power. This book does a really fantastic job of showing the downside of that. People are scared of her. They think she lies. She has all of this power and can't really do anything practical with it. She says she's best suited for battle magic but doesn't have the stomach for it. But she's endlessly curious and always trying to learn new skills. After a childhood of being a burden she wants to be useful.

Unlike the others her student, Keth is a grown man. He is a glassblower who only ever had a tiny bit of glass magic, just enough to make his craft easier. That is until he is struck by lightning. Now his magic is tainted with lightning. And Tris is one of the only known lightning mages, so she must teach him. We know they both leave the city together but they aren't really traveling with each other. Tris does undertake the care of an orphan girl who displays academic magic.

They have a really awesome relationship because he is legitimately frightened of her but at the same time they have a similar wry sense of humor that sort of draws them toward the other. They bicker but they can't hate each other. Tris takes his teaching in a practical, responsible way, but the circumstances are set up to show the softer side of her. She still hates pity and will only show so much of her past to Keth, enough to make him understand that she is not privileged.

What's different about the crimes in this book is that we don't follow the person performing them. In each of the others we get some scenes that show the criminals at work. We don't see that here. We do get scenes that follow the police officer looking for the killer. I think it's because the society is more important than the killer himself. It's the society that has driven the killer to act as he is and that is best shown through what the officer is facing rather than the killer. These aren't magical crimes so the focus is on Tris and Keth's magical solutions instead.

I get a sense from these books that Pierce finds Briar and Tris more interesting to write. Their stories have more character action going on and less elaborate plot lines. The characters always seem better defined, wittier. It might just also be that they're my favorites...

What I really realized this time around though, is that the books are so well explained on their own that they could be read as stand-alones. I think you'd miss the richness of her world but she explains herself each time so that reading the others isn't really necessary. Though, reading them in one go, the descriptions would be awfully repetitive. But really, they're magical crime novels.

Overall I rank them as follows:
Magic Steps: Massively Epic
Street Magic: Massively Epic
Cold Fire: Massively Epic
Shatterglass: Beyond Epic

I can't wait to start Pierce's new book, Battle Magic. I can read it now, before the other two because it actually takes place between Street Magic and The Will of the Empress. That makes it okay...I waited this long, telling myself I had to read the others first. Now I am impatient. I mean, it's NEW TAMORA PIERCE afterall.

Anyway, if any of you have read the Circle books I would love to hear your input. These are less loved than her Tortall books but I still absolutely adore them. She is absolutely masterful.

Also, I know I skipped Top Ten Tuesday this week. I did it on purpose because the topic was too similar to one we did a few weeks back and I knew I would, essentially, be doing the same post over so I refrained. I didn't forget this week, I promise.

Okay, that was a long post...and could easily have been longer.

Until next time!

-A.M.Y-A

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