Tempest & Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

TempestAndSlaughterTempest and Slaughter
by Tamora Pierce

This is a very odd book.

Like many girls in my generation, I grew up reading Tamora Pierce books, and while I don’t read them quite as religiously anymore, there are only a handful I haven’t read. This particular book was making waves before it was even published because not only is it the first time she’s written with a primary male protagonist, it’s also giving the backstory to the powerful and mysterious Numair Salmalin, the love-interest from one of her other series, The Immortals. This book is the first in a series about his youth as young Arram Draper, attending a school for magic.

The problem with any prequel, of course, is that regardless of what happens in the plot, you have a pretty good notion of how everything ends up.

But Pierce seems to have gotten around that by just deciding not to include a plot?

So there’s a lot of world-building (although much of the magic seems more similar to her Emelan universe rather than her Tortall universe where this particular book is set) and a lot of fun character interactions (although no character development), and a whole lot of foreshadowing. But no actual plot.

Like, stuff happens. But nothing ever develops.

I still enjoyed it, because I do love world-building, and Pierce is a talented writer, but… it’s just really odd to read a book without a plot.

Also, Arram was fine enough as a point of view character but he’s a bit of a goody-two-shoes in a way that I found surprisingly off-putting. It wasn’t that his ethics were wrong, in fact, they were very much on-point; it was more that they were unearned. He is a child growing up in a society that keeps slaves, and yet he is alone in wanting to speak out against it? Where did those ethics come from? What made him decide to speak out against what his friends and family who are fine with? And why are there no others that share his opinion? For all that he’s a teenager through most of the book, his ethical perspectives felt a bit like seeing a toddler at a protest rally being cute but clearly not able to truly argue the perspective.

Anyway, to sum up: interesting, but odd, with a few pointed problems. But I’ll definitely read the next book in the series to figure out what (if anything) happens next.

Melting Stone

Melting-Stones-Tamora-Pierce-unabridged-compact-discs-Full-Cast-Audio-books-MMelting Stone
By Tamora Pierce
Full cast audio

This was interesting.

Tamora Pierce was a guest speaker at the National Book Festival this year and I was delighted. I was also somewhat shocked that the line to get a book signed by her started forming in front of the signing tent at least an hour before she gave her talk at a completely different tent, and several hours before she would start signing anything.

I’m pleased that she’s popular, but I think the kids in that line made a mistake in going for a signature rather than listening to her speak. She’s a wonderful and witty speaker, with a certain acerbic quality that I enjoy. Seeing her at the festival was also my first notice that her next book has come out: Battle Magic.

I put a hold on it at my local library and checked out Melting Stone.

I grew up reading Tamora Pierce and I still love her books, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading Melting Stone, in large part because it was a born-audio book. While it also came out in traditional book format, that was only after it was published as a full-cast audio-book: meaning each character was voiced by a different voice actor and some sound effects were included, too.

This is not the only thing that’s unusual about this book.  The main character, Evvy, was first introduced in a different book, Street Magic. Street Magic, in turn, in the second book that focuses on the character of Briar Moss. Both of those books focused on Briar Moss are single parts in four-book series. Melting Stone also references a lot of events that happen in Battle Magic, a book that was only just published recently in 2013, some six years later. It’s hard for me to tell exactly, given that I know this book series quite well and for some time, but I think this book was intended to be able to stand alone and even introduce the universe to a new generation of readers, who can then go back, if they’d like, and read the backstory of the original books, but don’t have to if they don’t want to, and can continue to read future books as they come out.

Anyway, it was fun, even though it was also intended for a younger audience even than most of Pierce’s books. As Kinsey noted in her last post, we all like reading YA fiction, but generally the audience of those books are teens or the particularly precocious, and the intended audience for this book was more elementary school.

One of the things I love about well-written fiction is that it’s often also well-researched and you can learn a fair bit of non-fiction facts along with enjoying a story with characters and plot-arch. This book, in particular, I thought did a good job of including some basic geology for kids.

So while I enjoyed the story and the characters, I was mostly interested in my own meta analysis of this book. Are audiobooks really becoming more mainstream and standard? Regardless of format, it’s rather brilliant of Pierce to break up the continuity a bit in order to bring in a new generation of kids. I wonder: are there people out there who grew up reading her books who are now introducing them to their own kids?

“Mastiff” by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff coverMastiff
Tamora Pierce

Despite the many other things I should have been doing, I bought and read Tamora Pierce’s latest book as soon as it came out. I loved it, of course.

Given that I loved it, of course, you can see that I might just be a tad biased in my review. I grew up with this universe. I love these books, and I love this author. Her first book (Alanna: The First Adventure) was published in 1983, and since then she’s written 26 other novels, generally broken into quartets, and set in one of two universes.

Both of the universes she writes are magical fantasy: Tortall has knights and wars and a pantheon of gods; Emelan has mages and priests and pirates. Fun!

Each quartet of books stands alone, although there are often brief appearances of the characters from previous quartets for the delight of those readers who have recognize them.  And while the characters develop through their quartets, the plots of each individual book also stand alone for the most part.

Mastiff, her most recent book, is set in Tortall and is the third book in a rare trilogy rather than a quartet. In Terrier, Becca Cooper was in training to be a city guard; in Bloodhound, she was finally an official city guard.

In Mastiff, Becca Cooper is one of the best of the city guards and thus given the hardest tasks. I think that’s why Mastiff struck me as slightly more mature than other of Pierce’s books. While she’s not formulaic, per se—each plot is different and each character is unique—she writes coming-of-age stories, generally of young girls. There are multiple stages of coming of age, and each quartet will follow a character through some of them.

Becca had her coming of age experiences in the first two books and had, in fact, come completely of age. In this, the character development was very much that of an adult in an adult’s world. Good and evil are not necessarily clearly delineated and sometimes even when they are, you wish they weren’t. The book starts with the funeral of Becca’s fiancé whom she had been intending to break up with and is then immediately sent on a mission to stop a traitor to the crown intent on civil war. There’s guilt and betrayal mixed in with adventure and mystery.

There’s also a sense of foreshadowing throughout this entire series. It’s set a hundred years prior to her first book, and for those of us who have read the Alanna series, we can see developing the social changes that Alanna will have to fight against.

I enjoyed the book immensely, I enjoyed the series immensely, and I enjoy this universe immensely. I definitely recommend them all. But if this is an entirely new universe to you, I recommend that you start with the first book in any of the quartets (or trilogy):
Alanna: The first adventure
Wild Mage
First Test