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?
Thanks to Netgalley and Scholastic for this eARC. This title will be released September 24th, 2013.
So, you remember how I said I was excited for this book? Immediately after I posted about it, Gretchen and I got an ARC. We were both extremely excited. But because Gretchen has more ARCs to review than I do, I get to be the one talking about it! (Which in retrospect may have been a bad idea, because I am very sleep-deprived. Bear with me.) Before I do that, here’s some quick, spoiler-free context if you haven’t read Tammy’s Circle books:
Briar started out as a child mage, orphaned and taken in by Rosethorn and her friend/lover Lark, raised alongside three foster-sisters who were also mages. They (accidentally?) did something which made them heaps stronger, which I imagine caused problems for the adults in their lives because they were like eleven. Now Briar’s older, and travelling, and this book happens.
I’m summing this up because I often think of the Circle books–the early ones, anyway–as aimed at a younger target audience. Things got a lot more serious in The Will of the Empress [edit: Lauren pointed out that I was referencing the wrong imperially-titled Tammy book. I swear I know what I’m talking about], but I think I’ve always thought of the Circle books as benign, light reading. I knew this had the potential to be a lot more serious, but I don’t think I really believed it until I saw it. This is not a book for kids. She isn’t pulling her punches. This is a war, and it’s serious, and nobody is safe. She doesn’t flinch away from any of it.
So I guess what I’m saying is, just because some of the Circle books are for a younger audience and you may not have read them doesn’t mean you should avoid this book. It stands on its own pretty well, and it’s a good book.
As always, Tammy is fantastic at setting, both physical and cultural. I loved the idea that Gyongxe is closer to the gods because of its Himalaya-like elevation. The thin air and harsh environment meld well with the grounded sort of magic that the locals practice, as well as the bucketfuls of awesome mythology (and by the way, that mythology means BUSINESS). The country is loaded to the brim with religions scrambling for space. Yanjing, too, is interesting, although it is dangerous, corrupt, and nasty. Again, I love the way culture is worked into the practice of magic–like any human activity, it is affected by context, even when you’d think it would be universal. The people of Yanjing are portrayed with compassion, and it’s acknowledged that there isn’t much good that many of them can do with their circumstances.
The plot wanders a bit at times–there were a few things I thought would be super-important that turned out to be less so. The characters are well-rounded and interesting, although of course they’re often in very compromising situations. Evvy gets some nice character development, and it’s lovely to have Rosethorn’s voice after all this time. Having a middle-aged voice in YA is very rare, and I think it works really well here; Rosethorn is not defined by her age, only by her character, and I think that’s even MORE rare in YA.
Other things in this book that I don’t see often in YA:
- Lack of romantic relationships as major plot points. These people are lucky to get out ALIVE. The point is survival, and they are BUSY SURVIVING THANK YOU VERY MUCH. The main relationships are the ones between Evvy, Briar, and Rosethorn. It’s awesome to see that in a genre dominated by first love.
- Open relationships AND bisexuality portrayed without judgment and, really, without much fuss at all (by the author, at least–Briar is a little queasy, but I’m sure he’ll get over it)
- An entire book where whiteness is the exception, not the rule, pointed out and described with the same matter-of-factness that other ethnicities get. This shouldn’t be surprising, but audiences will take literally any excuse to assume all your characters are white, so it’s cool that steps are taken to avoid that here. I think Rosethorn may have been the only all-white character in the book, actually, at least that I can remember.
So yes, this book is cool, this book kept me on my toes, and this book will delight you if you’ve read the Circle books and stand alone just fine if you haven’t. I really enjoyed it! If you read it, come back and tell me what you thought!