The Circle Opens Book 1: Magic Steps

You thought I’d forgotten my goal to read every Tamora Pierce Book ever!! Ha! It’s like you don’t even know me and my implacability when it comes to books aimed at middle schoolers. Today I read the first book in the second series about the Circleteers, following the Circle of Magic series. While the books in the first series were about the four Circleteers learning to use their magic and inevitably working together to fend off some natural disaster (and one memorable magical pirate attack), in this series the Circleteers are separated and have to work as individuals! So much so that I’m not even sure I can call them Circleteers anymore! You know, since their powers don’t combine and all. It’s something I’m pretty bummed about.

BUT this series seems to be vastly superior to the first in almost every other way! It’s almost like Tamora Pierce heard my complaints about there being no villains and every character being insufferably good, their only faults being things like “working too hard”. This book definitely has bad guys! And a series of grisly murders! Plus, Sandry is less insufferable than before! She’s 14 now, and has to deal with her own apprentice who seems to annoy her a lot for some reason, so she actually ends up complaining sometimes! Like a real person! I was thrilled. The basic premise for this series seems to be that each Circleteer is out seeing the world, runs across some slightly younger kid with weird magic that no one has ever seen before, and then becomes that kid’s teacher. Apparently the rule in Circleteer land is that if you find an untrained magical kid, you HAVE to become their teacher. So Sandry now has an apprentice who has dancing magic. Which seems a little weird, but, you know, after thread magic, I feel like I’m just going to go with it. I do hope these “strange and unknown magics” become ever more ridic as the series progresses until Book 4 is about Daja finding some boy with magical spit or something.

Here are the two covers! I like the one on the left better, even if he is clearly doing jazz hands


Best New Character: Wulfric Snaptrap
No matter Wulfric Snaptrap’s personality, he would have won this award based on his name alone. BUT he’s also a police mage, hardened by everything he’s seen. It seemed for a while like he and Sandry were going to turn into a great mentor/novice buddy cop duo, but alas.

Returning Character Honorable Mention: Duke Vedris!
We get to see a lot more of Sandry’s uncle including his steely resolve to both do what’s right and flirt with dancing girls. You go, Duke Vedris!

Sandry’s Improvement Score: +50%=50/100
Although Sandry is vastly less annoying in this book, I still can’t forget that I hate her.

Thing I Most Wish Was Real: Dragonsalt.
Not that I want to become addicted to magical drugs, I just wish drugs had cooler names/backstories like they apparently do here. I imagine drug dealers stealing into dragon caves and using a cheese grater to capture some of this sought-after narcotic right from the sleeping dragon’s scales.

The Play-by-Play

Chapter one
Sandry is living with her uncle, Duke Vedris, since he had a heart attack and no one else can nag him into not having another one like her. She does a lot of random making pieces of fabric move so we get that she has thread magic. Pasco’s friend’s family pays him money to do a good luck dance before they take their fishing boats out. Sandry sees him!

Chapter two
Sandry tells Pasco he has dancing magic, but Pasco thinks that’s stupid. Sandry makes a bet with Pasco about whether or not the fishing boats will do better today or not because of his dancing. Rokat, a rich merchant no one likes has been murdered! Apparently he was a jerk, so no one is sad.

Chapter three
Sandry and the Duke head to the crime scene, where the cops are mean to her and make fun of her thread magic. She thinks it’s weird that none of Rokat’s protection spells seem to be disturbed, even though he is in all kinds of pieces. Almost like the killers were invisible! To magic! Pasco has to learn police hand to hand combat with his cousins, because his whole family is apparently required by law to be cops. His cousin makes fun of him for liking to dance, but doesn’t question his sexuality because this book is shelved in the children’s section. Sandry wins the bet when the ships come back full!

Chapter four
Sandry goes back to the temple to see her teacher, Dedicate Lark, and they reminisce about the absent Circleteers. I realize we probably won’t see anyone besides Sandry for this whole book and get really sad. Lark tells Sandry that she’s never heard of dance magic and that Sandry is required by plot device magical law to become Pasco’s teacher.

Chapter five
Pasco is practicing cop fighting with his cousins again when his guy cousin starts trying to beat him up for being a dancer. He does a dance, and all of his cousins are trapped in the air! Surprisingly, this doesn’t really change anyone’s opinion about dance magic’s existence/usefulness! Sandry comes and helps him bring them down. Then we flash to the murderer’s point of view! There are three of them! A husband/wife team and their crippled, drug addict mage! The drug he’s addicted to is called “dragonsalt”.

Chapter six
Rokat’s brother is super scared that the murderers are after him next! He tells the Duke it’s a rival trading family whose patriarch his brother killed! Now they are murdering everyone in his extended family! Duke Vedris is clearly not a fan of blood feuds, but sends some of his guards to protect Brother Rokat. On his way back to his house, Brother Rokat is killed in the street by completely invisible assassins!

Chapter seven
Sandry meets the police-mage investigating the murder case, who has the great name Wulfric Snaptrap. I start to wish this was a gritty crime drama starring him. Together they discover a weird shadow on the injured guards that seems to be sucking up surrounding magic! Lark brings in a world famous dancer who just happens to have a school in town to teach Pasco. Her name is Yazmin, and she and the Duke flirt it up. Rather than being sketched out, Sandry is excited to maybe shuffle off her responsibilities with him on someone else. Wulfric discovers that weird shadow is “unmagic”, which is just what it sounds like. The bad guys kill another member of the Rokat family, plus all his kids.

Chapter eight
Sandry happens to be just wandering by the crime scene and decides to Nancy Drew her way in to investigate because she knows that as a 14-year-old thread mage she is way more competant than the police. The police actually point this out, proving that they clearly DON’T EVEN KNOW and that we should hate them. Sandry notices pools of unmagic in a trail, and she decides to cover them up with silk sheets and her underwear so that Wulfric can get them when he arrives.

Chapter nine
The Duke orders all the other Rokats to hide in the magically protected part of his own citadel for safety. Pasco is super motivated to try harder when he hears he will get dance lessons! Then complains when dance lessons are hard. The Duke comes by for more hot reitred dancer flirting action, and Wulfric politely tells Sandry to step off because, again, she is 14 and not a police mage.

Chapter ten
Sandry says “cat dirt” a lot, and it takes me awhile to figure out that’s her version of cursing. Sandry, I hate you. She and Wulfric decide to go to the scene of the original murder, which has been sealed off, to clean up any unmagic that might be lying around. OH NO that is where the killers have been hiding! They immediately kill Wulfric, and start fighting Sandry and her guards before jumping into an unmagic portal.

Chapter eleven
I still can’t believe a good guy DIED in this series! Especially someone who had a purpose in the plot besides dying to make us feel bad or who later didn’t get magically pulled out of death (I’m looking at you, everyone in Briar’s Book). Sandry forms a plan to trap the killers! She’ll weave a net made out of unmagic and then Pasco will do his fish-calling dance around it to bring them in! Everyone argues that this is too dangerous, she is only 14, Pasco is worthless etc. until one of the invisible killers is discovered inside the citadel.

Chapter twelve
Pasco is super happy to be doing magic that his police-cult family would deem useful! Sandry weaves the unmagic net in a special magical quarantine tent. She angsts some more about how her friends aren’t here, proving that even Sandry hates being trapped alone in a book with the boringness that is her.

Chapter thirteen
The killers have pretty much lost all motivation besides sitting around, since apparently unmagic leaches at your will to live. Then they all become addicted to dragonsalt because at least that gives you energy. One of the Rokat’s agrees to act as bait for the trap, and a bunch of guards, Sandry, and Pasco hide in his house. Sandry sets up the net and Pasco dances his dance, and then is ordered to go home. Of course, he disobeys.

Chapter fourteen
The killers and their mage follow the bait into the house. They get sort of caught in the net, but have also managed to take Pasco hostage because he is an idiot. Sandry pretends like she is going to let them go, but then lets them fall into unmagic and get exploded! Also, their mage was just a little kid!!! Shocking plot twist!!! But he dies, and Sandry is wracked by guilt that she had to kill them. For some reason she doesn’t get mad at Pasco at all.

Pasco has finally won his family’s respect! For being kind of an idiot? Sandry goes to visit Lark at the temple and finds she has a shy new apprentice. Sandry realizes she is growing up and should live with her uncle permenantly! She is super sad to be leaving her childhood behind, and keeps being all broody about poor dead mage kid. She vows to write to her fellow Circleteers to look out for mage kids so they can’t fall into the hands of evil, and the set up for the other three books is born!

Previously: Circle of Magic Book 4: Briar’s Book
Next: The Circle Opens Book 2: Street Magic

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