March 8, 2012

Thursdays with Macky • Step-by-Step Sorcery

Magic Steps book cover
Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce
Series: The Circle Opens #1
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: November 15, 2006
Source/Format: Owned || Paperback

Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knows all about unusual magic - she herself spins and weaves it like thread. But when she witnessed a boy dancing a spell, even she is confounded. To her dismay, Sandry learns that as the mage who discovered the power of the young dancer, she must be his teacher. Before lessons can begin, however, Sandry and her uncle, Duke Vedris, get news of a mysterious murderer stalking a clan of local merchants. The killer employs the strangest magic of all: the ability to reduce essence to nothingness. As the murders mount and the killer grows bolder, Sandry's teaching takes on a grave purpose. For it becomes clear to everyone that the killings can only be stopped by the combined workings of two people: the young teacher and her even younger student.

This installment in the Circle universe hit hard on the Tamora Pierce geek meter. If you read my little prelude to this set of reviews you may remember what this book is about.

In a nutshell, we find fourteen year old Sandry doting over her uncle (Duke Vedris) who had just recently had a heart attack. She’s been living with him in the city and helping sort out Emmelanese affairs.

Cue a string of grisly assassinations involving one of the ugliest kinds of magic and a young boy from a family of local “cops” who just happens to come into his power at around the same time the murders start. Coincidence? I think not. In the Tammy-verse, this is a “confluence” of events that have this amazing domino effect on circumstances that allow for good and evil to lock horns and see which is the more tenacious.

Throw in the geek-factor of Sandry discovering that Pasco (the boy in question) has ambient magic of the “dance” kind and you’ll see how Tammy not just makes it work, but makes it pivotal to the story resolving itself.

The Good

The story starts out and you think it’s just good guys versus bad guys. You’ve got Sandry and the local cops (that’s Harriers to you Circle fans) with her new student Pasco. And then you have these assassins with what could only be described as the most dangerous magic ever.

Tammy went all out in this one. A little thread mage and a dance mage versus dark destructive magic. Little noble girl and misfit boy from a family of cops verses hardened assassins with a grudge. Fine. It is good guys and bad guys, but the kicker (as always) is in the end.

When all the details of the story are revealed, when you turn the last page, you realize Emmelan is not now nor was it ever a cheery little imaginary world. If Briar’s book and the death toll in that book alone was any clue that Tammy wasn’t painting a fairytale-esqe picture, this book ought to remind you that life is NOT peachy. But it can be if you’re willing to fight tooth and nail for it to be.

I love that. I love that Tammy kills people in her books. I love that she doesn’t shy away from the casualties nor does she scrimp on the “damage caused to” or the “price paid by” our heroes. Sandry goes through the wringer in this one. Especially because of what her ordeal ultimately does to her. After slugging through the darkness she finds this huge huge gray area. And her response to that is nothing short of courageous.

The Whut

There’s a huge chance people can get detached reading this book. There’s way too much minor and mundane details in this book that could bore you to tears if you didn’t care about Sandry.

This book is Sandry involved in both teaching a young ambient mage and helping out with a bunch of murders. Yes, the murderers are untraceable and seem to be immune to magic. Yes, that’s a “chills down your spine” geek moment. But at the end of the day, if Sandry doesn’t matter to you, this is just going to read like another “catch the bad guys” story. And Pasco (Sandry’s student) wasn’t even half as endearing as Briar. The kid grows on you. And maybe that’s how Tammy saw him to be. Kid’s a blundering idiot at worst, and a hero in the making at best. Key words “in the making”.

There is no “fate of billions hanging in the balance. There is no evil threat that wants to destroy the world with only a handful of heroes to stop it. It’s one particularly nasty criminal family being targeted for clan-nicide (yes that’s a word… just now) and only Sandry can help stop it.

You can’t sympathize with the assassins. There’s not too much depth to them. You can’t sympathize with the Rokat clan. They’re the local mafia. So you’re left with no choice but to sympathize with Sandry herself. The story’s a murder/mystery/drama. With magic. Fantasy-science fiction at it’s finest (in my humble opinion). But you have to care. There’s a reason the Tortall books are more famous with readers even if the Emmelan series is just as award-winning.

The Awesome

But I love Sandry. I really do. In teaching Pasco, and playing her uber-cool yet majorly crucial part in this nasty assassin business, Sandry grows about a foot and a half in stature and strength.

Not to foreshadow or spoil the other books, but arguably, Sandry was in the most danger of all the 4, just by the sheer physics of the magic she had to face. Briar and his gang wars, Daja and the arson threats, Tris and the serial killer… none of the other 3 fought magical beings.
Sandry went toe-to-toe against a kind of mage that NONE of the winding circle dedicates would have been able to face. That to me… is MAGNIFICENT.

I don’t know if Sandry is so compelling a character that if you read Magic Steps without reading the first quartet you’d love her right away.

Then again, even if the books in the Circle Opens quartet, were meant to stand alone from each other, I don’t think they were made to stand alone apart from the first four books. The Circle Opens books continue the saga of four extraordinary young people who are bigger than their already powerful magic. Their lives are the stuff of epics and legends. This may as well be renamed Sandry’s Book. She did more good in this book than most can in a lifetime. That never gets old for me. More to come next week!
Thursdays with Macky is a weekly feature on the blog where my boyfriend Macky posts his thoughts on some of his favorite reads.


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