The Circle Reforged Book 1: The Will of the Empress

Edit: Here’s another review I wrote more than a year ago, and just never posted for some reason.

You guys, I can’t believe it! I unironically enjoyed this Circleteers book! Even some of the parts with Sandry! I know, I never thought this could happen! Maybe it’s the combination of the Circleteers being back together AND them also being 18. Every book about the Circleteers (btws this is a name for them I made up since they remind me of Captain Planet) follows the same basic structure:

1) Various people think it’s impossible for the Circleteers to do things
2) They prove them wrong
3) Tris is the greatest

This book didn’t deviate from that basic structure, but now that the main characters are older, their adventures are more intricate AND often involve some form of romance, which is always a welcome distraction from the sameness of the plot. Back from their myriad travels, the Circleteers find that they have grown up and grown apart. They don’t trust each other like they used to, and they fight more. Plus, they’re kicked out of the Temple where they grew up and have to Make It On Their Own. Apparently Sandry is also a rich noblewoman, not just in their country, but also in the Russian Namorn empire to the north! Her cousin, the empress, is throwing political temper tantrums to get her to come back there, so finally Sandry agrees. The other Circleteers go too, to protect her from the empress’ tricks.

As you can probably tell from the title and the empress’ all-seeing eyes on the cover, she is the main bad guy, always scheming to get Sandry and her money to stay in Namorn through various intrigues, kidnappings, and suave economic maneuvering. Plus, she starts tempting the other Circleteers with what they want most, which turns out to be plants, money, and lesbian love.

That’s right, this book features the first gay main character in Tamora Pierce! Daja, the smith Circleteer, has a vaguely described moment of truth and falls for a hot Namorn lady. Luckily, this is not an issues novel, so no one agonizes over it constantly or freaks out. Apparently Rosethorn and Lark, the two temple ladies running the cottage they lived in, were a couple this whole time? I thought clergy were celibate in this universe? Whatever.

Awards

Best New Character: Cousin Ambros
Guy is so long-suffering and apparently way good at math.

Returning Character Honorable Mention: Zhergeobova
I don’t really understand this guy’s name, but he was the slightly-less-insane resident of the psych ward in Cold Fire that helped Daja lead all the mental patients to safety.

What I Learned: A major point in the book is the Namornese custom of kidnapping women until they agree to marry you, which is apparently totally legal and okay in all social classes in Namorn. The Empress doesn’t care since she was kidnapped twice and managed to escape, so claims that women who don’t manage to get away “deserve what they get”. Way to stick up for the sisters, Empress B. Bride kidnapping is actually a real thing, even today! Because there is such a stigma against pregnancy out of wedlock in many cultures, the woman feels obligated to marry her abductor/rapist from shame and coercion. It happens in many different places (including the U.S.–where in 1985 a guy claimed it was a custom of his ethnic group, and so was only charged with false imprisonment instead of kidnapping and rape). Kyrgyzstan of the Impossible Spelling seems to come up a lot when discussing it, where it’s estimated that half of all marriages begin in bride kidnapping!

Thing I Most Wish Was real: Badass names like “Ladyhammer”.

The Play-By-Play

Chapter one
Sandry is pouty that the other Circleteers have been away so long, and annoyed that she has to read another list of numbers from her cousin, who runs her estates in Namorn. Daja is glad to be coming home, but doesn’t want to mind-speak with Sandry because Sandry talks too much. Daja is pissed that no one told her she’s 18 so can’t live at the Temple anymore. But she doesn’t want any of Sandry’s pity charity so she buys a house of her own in the city. Sandry is pissed that Daja won’t “open her mind” which I guess means open their mystical hive mind connection. I guess I’m supposed to think Daja is being really mean, but I’m totes with her on this. Tris is even more grumpy than usual because, now that she can see things on the wind, it’s hard to STOP so she wears bitchin sunglasses all the time to block it. Tris doesn’t want chump charity either, and insists on being Daja’s housekeeper. Briar keeps vaguely alluding to some horribleness that befell him and Rosethorn sometime after the events in Street Magic. It’s so vague and weird that I check multiple times to make sure I haven’t skipped a book. No one wants to resume their mystical connection, because they all have SECRETS. Except Sandry, who continues being pouty.

Chapter two
Briar is apparently seducing everything female, except the other Circleteers. Tris says she wants to go to Lightsbride, Mage University, because she doesn’t want to use her weather powers for war. She’s going to go under a fake name so no one will know about her freaky secret powers!! I really hope this is what happens in the sequel! Secret identity Tris adventures sound great! Everyone grumbles about having to go on another field trip to Namorn! Tris sees on the wind that a dam upriver has broken just as they are crossing the river! She hurries everyone across, but they don’t listen to her and grumble, so she threatens to throw lightning at them, saving their lives. Instead of being grateful and apologizing for being jerks to her, they blame her. Tris, you need to get your own book ASAP!

Chapter three
They get to the capital! Empress B. is really nice, but clearly plotting to trap them in Namorn because Sandry is rich and everyone else has powerful magic she wants for herself.

Chapter four
Sandry’s cousin Ambros is pretty chill, but warns Sandry that Empress B. always gets her way, so she’s probably stuck in Namorn and should just accept it. Sandry scoffs.

Chapter five
Empress B.’s chief mage is a woman named Ladyhammer!! Also there’s some lady-in-waiting named Rizuka who Daja thinks is the most beautiful girl ever! Every boy wants to flirt with Sandry because she’s rich.

Chapter six
Empress B. is all about gardening and shows Briar her super secret greenhouses. Sandry also meets a funny guy named Shan who doesn’t want to mindlessly flirt with her! He says he can’t be seen talking to her because he’s not one of Empress B.’s “chosen suitors” for her. Tris says there’s a storm on the big lake next to the city but Ladyhammer is all “Our weather mages don’t think so” so Tris has to prove herself yet again. She uses her powers to hold back the storm and blow the ships to safety! Impressing/freaking out everyone.

Chapter seven
Sandry tells Empress B. that she has to travel to her estates the next day since she hasn’t visited them ever. Empress B. is annoyed, but sends two fawning suitors + Lady Rizuka with her. The other Circleteers are annoyed that Sandry didn’t tell/ask them about going. On their way back to Sandry’s fancy town house, a random crazy man barrels into them rambling! Wait, he’s not random! He’s Zhegorz, the crazy guy Daja met in the crazy wing of the hospital that was on fire! He was slightly less crazy than the others and helped her lead the others to safety! Tris pretty much figures out instantly that he’s actually hearing and seeing things on the wind like she does, but instead of learning it, he was just born with it. She doesn’t want the other Circleteers to know about her freaky, legendary powers for some reason. He sleeps in Briar’s room so that he isn’t left alone. Briar has more PTSD nightmares, and we find out that the reason he has been sleeping around so much is that he’s afraid to sleep alone.

Chapter eight
Sandry realizes that her estates are kind of falling apart in places because Empress B. has been taxing them like woah in an attempt to force Sandry to return to Namorn. Sandry’s mom was apparently kind of a bitch and demanded that Cousin Ambros always send her the same amount of money every year no matter what, so Ambros did that for Sandry without ever really saying anything (well, besides what was in his monthly reports which she may or may not have read). A peasant woman sneaks into Sandry’s rooms and hides, waking her up in the middle of the night to beg for her help! Apparently she was the victim of bride kidnapping, and needs the permission of her liege lord to extricate herself from the marriage! Cousin Ambros is just a caretaker so he hasn’t been able to help her and Sandry’s mom just ignored her the two times she tried to ask. Sandry is outraged and takes her on as a maid!

Chapter nine
Daja is touched by Sandry’s kindness and starts mind-speaking with her again! Sandry tells Cousin Ambros to sell her emeralds to pay for repairs.

Chapter ten
Tris notices that the banks of a river near a village she and Sandry are visiting are probably going to collapse! She uses her powers to shore them up. On their way back, they’re accosted by men trying to bride-kidnap Sandry! She makes all their clothes fall off, which seems to work out.

Chapter eleven
Empress B. is annoyed that someone would try to kidnap Sandry, taking it as a personal insult, but Ladyhammer isn’t worried about Sandry’s powers. Ladyhammer tells Empress B. about Tris’ work with the river wall, and Empress B. commands Ladyhammer to recruit her, suggesting she offer lots of money since Tris is “merchant spawn”. Empress B. seems supremely unworried about the Circleteers using magic against her because they aren’t “joined mentally” anymore. Empress B. comes to visit Sandry. She brings Shan, the not-as-mindless-flirter. Zhergorz is terrified that the Empress will torture the secrets he’s heard on the wind out of him, and Briar suggests he just leave Namorn if he’s so afraid of her. Shan flirts with Sandry secretly, and Daja learns from an equally flirty Rizuka that Shan is the Empress’ lover!!

Chapter twelve
Empress B. offers Briar a position as her head gardener/plant mage and throws tons of money in his face to get him to stay. Some young noblemen find Briar alone and challenge him to a duel! Because he’s too lowborn to be consorting with the Empress or whatever. They scuffle, and Briar wins! Because, duh, street rat.

Chapter thirteen
Tris tells Sandry she should probably worry about what Empress B will do to her lands once she leaves, and Sandry goes on a little tirade about how “they’re my lands” and “you have no idea what it’s like to be nobleborn” and a bunch of other excuses for not giving her lands to her cousin. I once again wonder why the other Circleteers don’t kill Sandry and eat her heart to absorb her power. Ladyhammer offers Tris a position as a rich mage at court. Shan continues to secretly flirt with Sandry, and for some reason the other Circleteers don’t warn her that he’s Empress B.’s lover even though they’ve all found out from gossip. Daja and Rizu make out!!!!!

Chapter fourteen
Everyone finds out about Daja! And she is kind of disappointed when no one freaks out. Sandry predictably gets bride-kidnapped by one of her jealous suitors, whose uncle is some kind of mage who helps him with keeping her from using her magic against him. Luckily she manages to magically call to Briar and Tris to help her (Daja is too distracted by Rizu or something).

Chapter fifteen
Tris busts Sandry out of there like woah, and then they have a surprisingly civil chat with Empress B. since apparently we’re not at the big showdown yet. Sandry says that she’s leaving ASAP and Briar and Tris agree because they can’t stay in a country that’s so laissez faire about rape.

Chapter sixteen
Daja finally hears what’s going on and says that of course she’s coming too and of course Rizu will also want to come. Of course, she’s wrong and Rizu wants to stay at court and continue being fancy. Daja is heartbroken. Tris mysteriously falls down the stairs and breaks everything!

Chapter seventeen
Of course it was Ladyhammer trying to hurt Tris so that the other Circleteers are easier to control. Tris urges them to leave without her with ZhergosoueAFJAUBOJ before something else holds them up. Shan comes and tries to propose to Sandry but she’s finally heard about his being the Empress’ lover so she is having none of that.

Chapter eighteen
Shan and Quen the Mage hatch a plot to bride kidnap Sandry. It involves sleep-drugging everyone at an inn along the way and some kind of magic-trap for the Circleteers. Zhergozeounsogbnsf tries to warn them, but they shrug him off as crazy. Tris and Ambros start off to help them since Empress B. and Ladyhammer are also plotting a trap for them at the border.

Chapter nineteen
Sandry, Daja, and Briar easily use their magic to escape Shan and Quen because, once again, they were underestimated. They send their entourage on ahead through the border disguised.

Chapter twenty
Ladyhammer tries to stop the Circeletters by raising the magical border defenses, but with Tris lending them her strength from a few miles behind them they’re able to walk right on through! The Circleteers once again nag Sandry about her responsibilities and she finally gives in and transfers her titles to Ambros. The end!

Previously: The Circle Opens Book 4: Shatterglass
Next: ????

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