Book Review: Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce

26 Dec

Yes, I am finished at last! I could write a book about the twists and turns these last few months have given me and I’m not sure anyonImagee would believe it. It’s been rough, we’ll leave it at that. With a few days to myself at last, I sat down with this much-neglected book and finally turned the last page.

A bit of background before I get into it, as Tamora Pierce is a veteran author with many good books to her name. She is one of my favorite authors, and perhaps the first I read who wrote the kind of “sword and sorcery” books that have shaped my own writing preferences. I first picked up her books over twelve years ago and I have eagerly awaited every new title since.

That said, I’m a Tortall girl through and through. I tore through the Immortals, Protector of the Small, and Alanna before I found the Circle quartets. Those were written for a slightly younger audience and I didn’t take to them right away. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish a single one at first. It wasn’t until I was given an advance of The Will of the Empress, which is written for an older audience, that I went back and read Circle and Circle Opens–and quite enjoyed them. Saying that, I haven’t read those books more than twice, and then some years ago. This is all a rather lengthy way of saying some of my criticisms of Battle Magic might be due to holes in my knowledge about the Circle universe.

Anyway. Battle Magic is set after The Circle Opens but before The Will of the Empress and Melting Stones. It follows Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy as they travel through Gyongxe and Yanjing. Invited to the palace of the Emperor of Yanjing to see the gardens there, the trio don’t expect to be wrapped up in a war between the two nations. Escaping with the prisoner-prince Parahan, they are able to lend their ambient magic to the Gyongxe war effort. But the Emperor of Yanjing is a brutal man who will stop at nothing to fulfill his desire for more land and honor. Throw in a dangerous magical container, giant stone tigers, peak spiders and the heart of a mountain, and it starts to look like not everyone will make it back to Emelan alive.

First off, I need to mention that this book was enjoyable–a great way to spend a few lazy afternoons. However, it was difficult for me to get into. From the first page, you are thrown into Gyongxe with the God King who I don’t believe we’d ever met before. Without much of a chance to establish a relationship with a few new characters, off Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy go to Yanjing to meet the Emperor and see his gardens.

There, I didn’t have the usual sense of place that I usually do with most of Tamora Pierce’s books. I didn’t feel as though we knew enough of the Yanjing culture or the people there. While I do think that the Emperor’s character was laid out well enough, others, not so much. For instance, Parahan became quite important later on, but at first I thought he could have been done without simply because we didn’t get to know him much later. Jia Jui, one of the mages, was seen only briefly before Briar thought that her presence when Evvy was asked to step closer to the emperor would “stop anything bad from happening.” Then, when Jia Jui pops back up to do something quite bad, I didn’t have the sense of betrayal I think I was meant to feel, because previously I’d seen her for half a page. I desperately wanted to know more about the God King and Dokyi as well. Even Parahan and Souda, while we got to know them much better, could have done with some extra fleshing out.

Events were the same. Busting Parahan out–well, why? Did they really feel that much for him after what seemed like a few days in his presence? Rosethorn carrying her burden off to the temple–why? It popped up and went on for a few chapters, and suddenly she’s back and we barely saw what happened in the temple, and none of it seemed to matter much. I’m sure it would have if we’d been given some more time with the object.

What I’m getting at is that Tamora Pierce is a series author, and this book needed to be a series–at least a duet! Book One: spending some time in Gyongxe before heading off to Yanjing, learning about the plans to attack Gyongxe, and ending with an escape or perhaps return to the God-King. Book Two: the battle to keep the Yanjing army out and exact revenge on the Emperor of Yanjing. A set up like this would not have changed the plot much, but it would allow for more time to be spent with the new characters and the new places. I just don’t think there was space enough in 440 pages to effectively convey everything we needed to know. The first section of the book read like it had been heavily edited–like there had been more but it had been cut down to size.

Another issue I had was that POV kept jumping from Briar to Rosethorn to Evvy. I did think that many of the Rosethorn parts could have been cut, but again, maybe I would have enjoyed them more if more time had been spent with her rather than less.

But again, this is Tamora Pierce we’re talking about. This woman can write, and the book was enjoyable overall. Filled with different types of magic that seem almost real, so many different religions and gods and goddesses that make the world real, and the trio of our favorite characters who will make you laugh and cry all at once, Battle Magic was awesome book. The battle scenes were well described and kept me turning pages to know what happens next.

Just a warning, though; you will wish it had ended differently. And if you’ve read her books before, you know what happens to the cats.

As this is probably one of the more popular authors and books I’ve reviewed, I’d love to hear your thoughts or see links to your reviews! Let me know what you thought of Battle Magic below. If you haven’t yet read it, what is your favorite Tamora Pierce book and why? Which of her upcoming books are you most looking forward to next?

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One Response to “Book Review: Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce”

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  1. 2013: A Year of Reading in Review | More Than One Page - December 26, 2013

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