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BATTLE MAGIC Keeps Reader At Bay

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BattleMagic_TamoraPierce

Battle Magic

Tamora Pierce

Scholastic Press, 464pages
Category:  Fantasy
Ages: 12 and up
Format: Jacketed hardcover, $17.99 US

Battle Magic is part of Pierce’s Emelan Universe. The story is fairly simple: three mages, or two and an apprentice, are traveling and become involved in a war. The war is all about a greedy emperor who must be stopped. That’s really about all there is to this book. It’s a travelogue with lots of information on the food, names of people, and places most of which I can not pronounce.

I thought that I had picked up the second or third book in a series and was diving in without the benefit of the back story on the main characters. It felt like there was a story before this where we got to know all about these characters and this world. Looking at several online sites, I had a hard time figuring out if Battle Magic was part of a series or not. It appears to be a stand alone book at this time. Which is interesting because Pierce has several series and yet this one doesn’t seem to have any companions.

The story itself does stand on its own. But without the benefit of knowing these characters, it feels like the story is distant. The reader is not brought in to feel intimate and familiar with who these people are or the world they inhabit. On the other hand, it certainly ends as though there will be another book to come after. I suspect there there will. If this is indeed the introduction book, it left a lot out. Does that mean that the second book will have the task of bringing the reader close enough to really care about the story?

For much of this book the three main characters — Rosethorn, Briar, and Evy — don’t have enough different characteristics to really make themselves memorable. I could hardly tell the three of them apart. It’s not till I’d been with them in the book for a long time that their differences started to become more apparent. Even then, they are only superficial things that set them apart. Rosethorn is a stern teacher, but also a bit lusty. Briar is young, headstrong and as time goes on he worries that he’s loosing his sanity. Evy is also young and headstrong. She travels with her bunch of cats and is prone to speak her mind even when it’s going to get her in trouble.

The real problem is that since I could hardly tell them apart I wasn’t vested in these characters. Even if a character is bad or evil, the reader needs a reason to care about him. For that to happen the reader needs to know the character. They need some insight into how or why the character behaves the way he does. Without that sort of intimacy the reader is kept at a distance and lacks empathy for what befalls the characters.

If I had not felt obligated to finish the book, I wouldn’t have. The book as a whole would have benefited from giving each of the main characters more depth, more characteristics that would set them apart from each other from the start. Let the reader in on what makes them tick.  Unless the reader is a fan of Tamora Pierce, they may not stick with the book till these characters start to become more interesting.

The first character we think we are getting to know, the God King, is not seen or heard from again till near the end of the book. As a boy who is used by the gods to speak for them, he presents an interesting mix of child and chosen ruler. The mix of boy and man within an eleven-year-old actually makes him the most interesting character. Unfortunately he’s hardly in this story. Perhaps he’ll be featured in a future book.

When the three main characters are in grave peril, the pacing picked up and the story held my interest. But once they were out of danger, the pace slowed down and it was harder to stick with the story. I’m not a fan of travelogue stories. If you enjoy those with bursts of action and peril this story will probably appeal to you very much.

What I love about fantasy fiction is inhabiting a new world. I relish exploring the look, feel, sounds and the characters that live there. I especially love how with words I can be transported and experience things I can’t or won’t in my everyday world.

Some of my very favorite books are young adult fiction. This is appropriate for that age range but, I don’t know if it will hold their interest. Most of the names seem to be intentionally difficult to read or pronounce. They slow down the reader and make it harder to keep track of who and where and what is going on.

Tamora Pierce is a prolific writer who has a large fan base. I’m sure she knows her audience and will deliver the stories they want to see from her.

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Maia Ades

Maia Ades resented the demanding schedule of first grade, as it interfered with her afternoon TV schedule. Now she watches TV for "research" and in order to write show reviews. She is currently involved in independent film production, and enjoys creating fine art.

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