Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Emelan series (The Circle of Magic and the Circle Opens quartets, along with standalone novel THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS) won’t be disappointed with her latest effort, BATTLE MAGIC. If you ever wondered why teenage plant mage Briar Moss suffered severe PTSD in EMPRESS, or where sassy stone mage Evvy’s rocky friend Luvo came from, this is the book that will answer all your questions, and more. As always, Pierce imbues her work with a clear moral message that often lacks subtlety, but she never preaches too much. Her vivid characters and settings leap off the page, and you’ll eagerly listen to whatever comes out of their mouths.
"Yes, other authors can weave tales about mages and war, but no one else hits home harder with the message about the horrors of combat than Pierce."
We meet Briar, Evvy and their tetchy teacher Rosethorn in Gyongxe, a land where a young God-King rules and shamans dance stone skeletons out of cliffs. Evvy’s delighted to be in a land full of majestic mountains, and the three bond with their hosts. All too soon, they are called away to the court of Weishu, emperor of Yanjing, and his gardens, which the imperial conqueror wants to show to the famed plant mages from Emelan. Welcomed with due respect to the formal court, the trio is overwhelmed by the ruthless Weishu’s displays of extreme military might. They’re also taken aback by his cruelty, which includes keeping war captives and slaves in cages and in chains.
One of the more interesting people they meet is Parahan, a captive prince whose uncle sold him to Weishu. The clever slave makes fast friends with Evvy, Rosethorn and Briar, who can’t stand to see him shackled inhumanely. On the eve of the group’s departure, headstrong Evvy decides to break Parahan out of his prison. Briar catches her, but reluctantly agrees to help. Before the three leave and Parahan vanishes, the latter leaves them with some words of wisdom. Weishu isn’t content with his already massive empire --- he’s going to attack Gyongxe.
Evvy, Rosethorn and Briar are determined to warn their friends in Gyongxe, land of mountains, temples and gods, that the Yanjingyi forces plan to attack. Rosethorn, meanwhile, has an even bigger problem. As a dedicate of Winding Circle Temple in Emelan, she’s part of all the all Living Circle temples. It just so happens the first, and most important, Living Circle temple is in Gyongxe, and Rosethorn is sworn to protect it. Torn between her two young charges and her religious duty, Rosethorn will have to decide where her loyalties lie. Evvy, meanwhile, manages to get into no shortage of trouble of her own, while Briar’s healing and magical capacities are pushed to their limits as friend becomes foe, foe turns into friend, and danger looms over every hillrise.
Pierce creates yet another magical young adult novel. What makes her different from any other writer is the sheer believability of the stories she tells. Yes, other authors can weave tales about mages and war, but no one else hits home harder with the message about the horrors of combat than Pierce. War isn’t glorious, and the reader sees that firsthand in BATTLE MAGIC. This isn’t a tale of epic heroism and chivalry, but an often heart-wrenching tale of what can go wrong --- and, admittedly, sometimes right --- when people decide to take up arms. Or, in Weishu’s case, when people get greedy beyond their limits.
Reviewed by Carly Silver on August 19, 2013