Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Rosethorn has always wanted to travel to the eastern lands her companion and fellow Winding Circle mage, Lark, talked about. Briar Moss, ever protective of his teacher and friend, accompanies her on the long journey. With them travels Evumeimei “Evvy” Dingzai, Briar’s pupil. Rosethorn and Briar are plant mages and Evvy is a stone mage in training. Their journey is long, but rewarding. In addition to simply seeing the sights and eating the cuisine of new lands, Rosethorn and Briar take clippings from interesting plants and visit famous gardens as they travel. While they are in the small mountain kingdom of Gyongxe they receive an invitation from the Emperor of Yanjing to visit him at his summer palace. When they accept his invitation they don’t realize that they’ve started a new journey, one that will separate them and expose them to the darkness of battle magic.
This is a story of greed and conquest, death and blood. But it’s also a story about the power of good people who refuse to accept tyranny and evil. Sounds heavy, right? Well, it is. I think this may be the darkest of Pierce’s novels to date. There’s truly no way to explore a theme of war and conquest without going a bit dark, but Pierce handles the subject with sensitivity to her audience. While the wrongness comes through, it isn’t so graphic that incidents overpower the entirety of the novel. As with all really good books, the plot of Battle Magic is layered with subplots, making a richer tapestry for the reader. Battle Magic contains not only war and evil, but sections devoted to the growth of Briar and Evvy. Even Rosethorn, who seems much too old for personal growth, has a spiritual quest that must be completed by her and her alone. Additionally there are numerous likable and very disagreeable (and even downright evil) secondary characters that are so well-drawn that I need a new designation - something between primary and secondary - to describe them.
Battle Magic is a different style of book than the first novels Pierce wrote for teens, though she has never shied away from the darkness of life. I always enjoy novels because I get pulled into her world so thoroughly. Sometimes that means celebrating with characters. Other times it means shedding a few tears with them. In Battle Magic I did both. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a fantasy realm for a few hours.