Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fans of Pierce's "Circle of Magic" and "Circle Opens" quartets will probably like the latest installment of the "Circle Reforged" series. This time, Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn have been invited to meet the emperor of Yanjing and tour his famous gardens. Their stay is not always a comfortable one, as the emperor shows off not only his gardens but his vast armies, lightning-fast mood swings, and absolute control over his subjects. While there, the trio befriend Parahan, heir to a nearby kingdom, sold into slavery by his uncle. When Parahan escapes...with a little help...on the eve of their departure, the emperor goes ballistic, ordering a vast manhunt to recapture his prized possession. Soon Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn are dodging Yanjingyi soldiers as they flee to the border with news of an impending invasion, joining the fray as battle mages for their friend, the Gyongxin God-King.
As always, Tamora Pierce's world-building is outstanding, her stories exciting, and her characters well-developed. My main reason for the relatively low 3-star rating is the inexplicable decision to have Rosethorn cheat on Lark with Parahan. The affair comes completely out of the blue and is utterly gratuitous (albeit occurring offscreen, thankfully). It in no way moves the story along or has any other redeeming purpose. Removing it would not impact the sequence of events in the slightest. I'm sorry, Ms. Pierce, but what were you thinking?! Just because someone is bisexual does not automatically mean she's also adulterous! And if you ARE going to include infidelity, there better be a literary reason for it. I am still flabbergasted by this pointless artistic choice. Flabbergasted and disappointed. I lost so much respect for those two characters...and the author...the moment I read the first scene where Briar sees them embracing.
For readers' advisors: setting, story, and character doorways. Despite the adultery, it's a clean read, since none of that is actually described. This book is shelved with juvenile fiction in my library, but that is an error, in my opinion. Evvy is, I believe, twelve, Briar is sixteen or so, and Rosethorn is an adult, as are all the other characters, apart from the God-King. I would definitely consider this to be young adult fiction.
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