Last week’s mention of Tamora Pierce made me realize that I have only covered two of her multitude of awesome series. On a personal note, I have to say that her books sort of inspired this blog, because even though I have a long reading list filled with award-winning books, I still always end up re-reading Pierce’s books, even though I’ve read them approximately 239470239 times. They may not be ‘high literature’ but there’s something that draws me back – part of that is a personal enjoyment, and part of that I think is the craft.
The Circle of Magic series takes place outside of Pierce’s more well-known Tortall universe, and follows three child mages – three girls (Sandry, Tris, and Daja), one boy (Briar) – through their journey to adulthood. Most of the books are focused nominally around one of the main characters; the first series is their training in magic, the second finds them accredited mages who find themselves charged with students of their own, and The Will of the Empress is a thicker book focusing on all of them as they reunite after their separate adventures.
These series are of particular interest because I feel that they grew in maturity and scope with each successive book. The first series – The Circle of Magic – is thoroughly enjoyable, but not challenging in the least and meant for younger readers. The second, however – The Circle Opens – begins to challenge each mage with adult situations and the tribulations of teaching. In particular, Daja faces a friend who turns out to be a serial killer, and Tris disagrees with a strict and illogical caste system. And finally, The Will of the Empress introduces petty jealousy among the formerly tightly-knit group, as well as sexuality and questions of duty.
While all of the girls are strong and interesting characters, each of them have different situations: a noble, a merchant, and a foreigner. Furthermore, they have different points of conflict: Sandry must stay behind while the others go on adventures in the second series, Tris’s student is a man much older than her, and Daja realizes she is lesbian. There is nothing generic about any of these books, and they escape Pierce’s normal WW rating.
It’s not often a series from your childhood can grow with you, but Circle of Magic has managed to keep itself current and addressing larger issues, which is extremely rare in the genre of fantasy YA. Perhaps it is not the most realistic or complex treatment of the issues in question, but the simple inclusion is a giant step for this sub-genre. Take for example, Daja’s sexuality – everyone immediately accepts it and she feels comfortable with the realization. While this is a rare case in real life, that Pierce makes the acceptance so unquestionable as to be almost mundane, actually fits it easily into your consciousness too. She even casually reveals that Lark and Rosethorn, two of the children’s teachers in the first series, are also homosexual. This is an interesting twist on the genre because I’m used to accepting that mage teachers would live in a house together with their students, and never thought to question whether there was another element to it.
While individually some of the nine books in the series (ten if you count Melting Stones) might rate lower, overall The Circle of Magic gets a AJ on the PSA.