Friday, October 18, 2013

Me on Battle Magic

Title: Battle Magic
Author: Tamora Pierce
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic

On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxi, mages Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor's summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxi, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor's prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxi to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?

Battle Magic is a tale of distant lands and unique customs, a tale of magic and danger, a tale of battles that one cannot just walk away from. This book is about power, faith, and the lengths some will go to in order to save a kingdom from an invasion.

This is a return to familiar faces from previous books, to familiar young mages and their sharp teacher. Briar is older, sixteen now, and still as he ever was, caring towards his plants and his new family that saved him from loneliness and a life as a street thief. He's still apart from his foster-sisters, but he's still growing as a young man and as a mage, still learning. Evvy is back as well, the young stone-mage they rescued in Street Magic. And Rosethorn is Rosethorn, as prickly and as loving as ever.

Far away from their home in Emelan, the trio find themselves visiting both the lands of Gyongxi and Yanjing. Both seem to be inspired by Asia, the social customs and the weather, the clothing and the food, the ways in which the Yanjing Emperor has arranged his gardens. But not everything is covered in silk or studded with sparkling gems. The Emperor means to invade, to take everything the God-King of Gyongxi presides over, and if he cannot take it easily, he will make sure no one will ever have it.

This is what fantasy provides: heroes who save countless lives and stand up to tyrant emperors, unexplanable magics and god-like figures that science cannot explain, seemingly everlasting journeys and quests far from home. Kind-hearted, intelligent, and strong heroes who stand up for the weak are such an important part of many fantasy novels written for children and young adults. The setting may be different, but readers have a way of seeing themselves in characters, seeing that their lives are very much the same, and that they can help others in their own way.

My only issue is with the length of the book, with the amount of detail and explanation poured into every single page. I don't remember the other books being this long or this detailed. And it was clear that this book is aimed towards older readers, teenagers, taking the battle scenes into account. Those are too violent for middle grade readers.

Tamora Pierce is often who I think of first when it comes to middle grade and young adult fantasy. Elaborate world-building, lush descriptions of castles and keeps, people of all walks of life with different purposes, magic and its different uses, the trust people put in their rulers and the faith they give to various gods and goddesses, the nobles that understand they must also work hard and suffer in order to keep their subject happy. Strong and intelligent but flawed characters, both male and female. Her books are entertaining and enchanting all at the same time. It feels a bit odd, reading this book and reviewing it, when the first four books set in the Emelan universe were my favourite books when I was in high school. At 13, they were what I read over and over again. I love that the series is still going, that Tamora Pierce is still writing books set in this world, and that there might be more to come.

(I received an advance copy of this title to review from Scholastic Canada.)

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