Set between The Circle Opens and The Will of the Empress
By Tamora Pierce
Available now from Scholastic Press
Read my review of Melting Stones
Tamora Pierce has been one of my favorite authors for a long time, ever since I was a little nine-year-old reading SANDRY'S BOOK on the way to Georgia. I haven't loved her most recent releases. The most recent book in the Emelan universe, MELTING STONES, was lacking in the plot department and felt detached, even for a side book. Each book in her Provost's Dog series was wonderful as a standalone, but failed to congeal as a trilogy. But man, BATTLE MAGIC reminded me why I've been a fan of Pierce for more than a decade.
BATTLE MAGIC fills in one of the gaps between the end of The Circle Opens quartet and THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS. Briar, his teacher Rosethorn, and his student Evvy are almost done traveling the world when the end up in the middle of a war. They must help defend Gyongxe (fantasy Tibet) against the Emperor (of fantasy China). It's a set up for much action and pain, but the war setting also allows for an exploration of each of their true characters.
There are several new faces, many of them memorable. I can't be the only one who finishes BATTLE MAGIC and hopes that Parahan, a slave of the Emperor, shows up in future books. There's lots of fun magic, not just the academic and ambient types that Pierce has developed through the ten previous books in this setting. And the relationships are heart wrenching. They are far more than teacher-student pairs. Rosethorn, Briar, and Evvy are family - family far from home.
That being said, BATTLE MAGIC does have its flaws. There's very little new strategy or skill on display from the familiar trio. Expect many vine bombs (which are awesome, admittedly). I'm not sure the characters would work as well for someone picking up this novel who is unfamiliar with the world. BATTLE MAGIC is more plot driven than most of the Emelan novels. (I say that, but thinking back, they mostly have strong plots, especially the mysteries. Perhaps I'm just so fond of the characters that their personal journeys always seem like the highlight to me?)
I think BATTLE MAGIC is essential for Tamora Pierce fans. I also think that if you aren't a Pierce fan, you should be. This is a book full of fierce mages, tough women, and a noble cause. There are scenes that will break your heart and others that will make you cheer. It also caused me to reread most of Pierce's backlist, which I hadn't been planning on.