Tag Archives: Tortall

Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Numair Chronicles, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arram Draper is one of the youngest students at the Imperial University of Carthak, sent there by his family to hone his Gift–before he accidentally burns up everything they own! It swiftly becomes clear that his Gift is special, powerful, enough so that he rises quickly through his classes to get special training with advanced teachers, along with his best friends Varice and Prince Ozorne. As if being friends with a prince didn’t come with enough complications on its own. Not to mention the problems Arram gets into once he gains the attention of various gods and other supernatural beings. It’s pretty clear that he will never really fit in, not that he really wants to, but as Arram experiences more of the troubles facing Carthak–the threats to the Imperial succession, the horrific place that slavery and gladiatorial entertainment play in the nation–he finds himself more convinced than ever that he can’t stay in this country, even if it means leaving the people who mean the most to him.

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, always. And Numair has been a favorite character of mine in her books for quite a while now, so it’s pretty cool getting to go back and get his backstory. Having said that, in the past, I’ve always watched characters grow up into legends in her books, so it’s a bit weird to know the legend first and then go back to that character’s childhood. (He even has a different name as a kid, although we’re already introduced to that fact in some of Pierce’s other Tortall books.) It works though, and I feel like his character is consistent while allowing room for his growth into the adult Numair that we know and love. It’s neat to get a look closer look at Carthak, and at this time period in this world’s history, too, since most of the stories we get are set in Tortall and are a bit later chronologically. As far as the general storytelling, if you like Pierce’s writing, you’ll like this. It’s solid, engaging, character-driven fantasy writing with an easy, gradual pacing, lots of character development, and a unified plot. Lots of room for development in future volumes, too. At its core, Tempests and Slaughter is a school story, so a lot of it revolves around Arram’s classes, teachers, and friendships, as well as a bit throughout about the physical and emotional changes he goes through during this time and the complications of handling that without a real father figure around to talk about it with. So, warnings that there may be some content that’s a bit old for elementary/middle-grade kids . . . okay, considering the exposure Arram has to the gladiator’s ring in later parts, I’d make that a definitely. Recommended for high-school and up, but definitely recommended.

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Squire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Kel has surpassed numerous challenges–including lots of people not accepting a girl in the role of knight-in-training–and has finally become a squire. Or at least, she will be if any knight will take The Girl on as his squire. To her surprise and delight, Lord Raoul sees her potential and breaks his usual habits, taking her on to train. His unconventionality, gruffness, and practicality promise to make her four years as his squire both interesting and challenging. . . . Who knows, they may even be fun at times. Not that there won’t be plenty of challenges for her to face before achieving her knighthood–an ornery baby griffin, any number of stuffy individuals who challenge her capability, a huge royal progress across the country complete with parties and social expectations, boys. But of course, Kel will face them all with the clear-headed determination that has stood her in good stead so far.

I adore Tamora Pierce’s books, and Squire is an excellent example of her writing. The characters are fabulous. Kel continues to grow as a person in this book, and I love the way her character builds with every small choice she faces. I have to applaud Pierce for writing someone so vastly different from most of her other Tortallan heroines as well; Kel’s really distinct from, say, Alanna or Daine. Which actually makes it really interesting to get to see them in the same story, interacting with each other. There are plenty of other excellent character here as well, the most developed and fun to read probably being Raoul (whom I already like from Alanna’s story, but we get a different perspective on him here, which is fun). And the animal characters are just soooo good! The writing style, as always, is very comfortable and easy to read, although I am again impressed by how unconventional Pierce’s writing seems at times in the way it homes in on small jewels of events then pans out for broad, sweeping passages of time. It’s different, but it works–brilliantly, even. I do feel the need to highlight that, while the earlier books in this quartet could easily be considered children’s fiction (First Test, in particular), Squire sits solidly in the YA genre, with Kel facing some pretty big, adult stuff like death and sex–not so much kids’ stuff. So fair warning that, while still quite clean and fairly discreet, this is probably not the ideal book to give to your ten-year-old. Still, for a YA and older audience, Squire is an incredible story, especially for those who love a good fantasy.

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Page

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kel has survived her first probationary year as the first female page in the Tortallan court. Now she only has three more years to make it through as an officially recognized page before she can become a squire–and those three years promise to be grueling, full of hard physical work, intense study, and opposition of her choice to remain coming from all sides it sometimes seems. Not to mention a young maid who’s come under Kel’s protection and a collection of first-years demanding her time and assistance. But Kel is nothing if not stubborn and determined.  And the truth is that she does have friends to support her, from those among the other pages to her growing collection of animal friends to her secret benefactor who keeps on sending her far-too-expensive but always practical gifts. Somehow or another, Kel is determined to stick with it and make it through these three years.

As always, in Page, Tamora Pierce delivers an incredible story full of great characters–including a strong, relatable female lead–moving plot challenges, fantastic animal characters, and a simple, flowing, enjoyable writing style. I basically just love her writing, period. Page is kind of different from some stories in that it doesn’t so much have a huge, overarching plot path–other than the passage of time over the three remaining years of Kel’s page training. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plot; there is, quite a lot in fact. It’s just set up with a more episodic feel, and also in places with the passage of time simply flowing away without much note. I know that doesn’t sound so exciting, but I actually quite enjoyed the way in which it’s written. It explores how much Kel grows up in the course of those years, discovering her own womanhood, exploring how her gender plays a part in who she is and how she lives, her changing feelings over time, her growing as a person and a leader, her developing friendships, and the growth in her character. Page is a different sort of story, but highly recommended still, perhaps even because of that very reason. Plus, you know, Tamora Pierce, always recommended, period.

 

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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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The Realms of the Gods

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Immortals, vol. 4

In spite of the work and sacrifice of many, Daine and Numair not the least, Immortals (monsters from the Divine Realms) have flooded the world following the rupture of the barrier keeping them at bay. While on a mission to deal with some particularly nasty Immortals, the two find themselves whisked (rescued, rather) away to the Divine Realms–by Daine’s parents, no less! Daine finally gets to meet her Da, one of the gods, and finds that her deceased mother is now living in the Divine Realms with him as a lesser goddess. Surprises and happiness all around, especially when the badger shows up for the party as well. But Daine and Numair aren’t the sorts to enjoy leisure and comfort when their friends and country are in danger, and the dark little spies their enemy sends after them even at Daine’s parents’ home are a reminder that they must be getting back. But the only way they can get home is to travel through the Divine Realms (which aren’t  all sunshine and roses) to the Dragonlands and ask the dragons to take them home. . . . And of course, they might eat them before they get the chance to ask.

Tamora Pierce is always a winner with me, especially The Immortals quartet, so I greatly enjoyed The Realms of the Gods. It was packed with all the things that make Pierce’s stories amazing: great characters, huge plot, a great balance between intensity and good humor, and an element of the unexpected. In this particular volume, I did find that the beginning was a bit slow for my taste; however, I think a lot of the problem there was that I was anticipating and worrying about the war back in Tortall. The beginning part was actually quite interesting; a unique look into the home life of the exalted, if you will, and a sweet reunion for Daine and her parents. The romance between Daine and Numair that’s been expectantly brewing for some time finally sparks in this volume, and I love the way it just fits. It’s like, you’ve been expecting them to fall in love for years, and when it finally happens, it just flows naturally without a bunch of weirdness. It’s nice, and it doesn’t overpower the plot. I really love the inclusion of the “darkings” in the story as well. These are small, ink-blobby entities magically formed by the evil Ozorne to do his bidding–bad business to be sure. And initially, they’re all spying and mysterious. But then they realize they are individuals and have control over their choices–then they’re not only cute but brave and pretty amazing. I would highly recommend The Realms of the Gods  to anyone who enjoys a solid, fun fantasy–just read the first three volumes of the quartet first!

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Emperor Mage

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Immortals, vol. 3

After years of tension and threat of war, Carthak’s Emperor Ozorne is finally willing to talk peace with a delegation from Tortall. Lucky Daine gets to go along to heal the emperor’s beloved pet birds as a gesture of good intentions. Now she’s all about taking care of the birds–helping animals is kind of what she does–but being part of all the political talks is not her idea of a good time, especially when it’s with a country that has sent unofficial attacks against her country. But she does go, and she’s surprised to find the emperor’s nothing like what she expected–or rather, in some ways he’s worse and in others he’s remarkably kind and considerate. In any case, all this courtly mumbo-jumbo gets under Daine’s skin, as does the fact that many people in the Carthaki court have a history with her friend and mentor Numair. Not to mention the underlying suspicions that things are not as they seem here what with the involvement of a Carthaki goddess and a number of other rather frightening immortal beings. . . .

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, and I think The Immortals books are some of my favorites. The characters of Daine and Numair are complex and intriguing–plus I just like them and find their growing friendship to be fun and heartwarming. And all the animal friends Daine makes along the way are charming and entertaining with their quizzically non-human perspectives. I enjoy the balance of intrigue, magic, action, and friendship–everything just flows so nicely to create a story that’s exciting and engaging all the way through. Of particular note in this volume is her development of the Carthaki nation and its culture–it has both an intriguing individuality and a fascinating similarity to that of ancient Egypt. And of course, the inclusion of numerous characters from The Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna, of note) makes this volume even more fun! Really, Pierce is an excellent writer with a very readable style; I would highly recommend all her books and Emperor Mage in particular.

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Wolf-Speaker

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Immortals, vol. 2

At the request of a wolf pack to whom she owes her life and loyalty, Daine makes the trip to Dunlath Valley accompanied by her friend and mentor, the wizard Numair. Also joining them are Daine’s pony Cloud, a couple horses, and her new charge–a baby dragon that she calls Kitten. The wolves called for her because the humans in the valley are strip mining and dumping waste in the lake, a situation that–if allowed to continue–will drive the animals to find new homes yet again. Upon closer inspection, Daine and Numair find evidence of much deeper problems as well: slavery, dealings with violent immortal beings, and even treachery against King Jonathan. They must call upon all of Numair’s skill, Daine’s still-developing wild magic, and a surprising collection of allies both human and animal . . . and possibly even immortal . . . if they are to prevent this treachery.

In the first volume of The Immortals, Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce created an exciting and engaging tale filled with delightful characters; Wolf-Speaker is the perfect follow-up to that initial volume. The plot complex, building on seeds planted in the first volume of Daine’s story in many regards. And while the characters are absolutely true to themselves (which is vital–I love Daine, Numair, and Cloud, and they aren’t allowed to change), they are also growing and developing in wonderful and unexpected ways. I think the balance of character development, political intrigue, fantasy adventure, and coming-of-age story is perfect, lending a story that is both exciting and enduring. One thing I particularly enjoy about this story is all of the animals and Daine’s interactions with them–as well as the awareness of the changes in the creatures due to their time with Daine. I would recommend Wolf-Speaker (as well as Pierce’s other books) to anyone who enjoys an exciting adventure with an interesting flavor of fantasy.

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