Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book 8: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

This is a ridiculously long post (I have a long history with this book, so be prepared for storytime if you decide to read the whole dratted thing). If you're just here for the review, scroll until you see the big purple letters.


I picked this book up for the first time when I was in sixth grade, not knowing that it would be responsible for shaping my reading habits for the next three to four years. I devoured it and its sequels before moving on to the author's other books, and then obsessively re-read them again and again. The spine on my copy of this one is absolutely destroyed, which could be credited to the fact that it's a used book, but I choose to peg it on the fact that, once upon a time, it was the most-oft-read book on my shelf.

I generally expect books to lose their charm after a few years, and most of the time they do. There are a few exceptions I've found--Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, for example, or the first of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter Series. No matter how many times I read them, these books never get old. They are just as beloved to me now at nineteen as they were when I first read them as a fourth grader. Personally, I think that is a great feat of writing, and something that authors should be heartily congratulated on. It's easy to go from adoring a book one day to thinking that it isn't anything special the next, especially given the extreme power that public opinion has these days (hello, Twilight? I read it when it was a cool, cult-indie book. Now I wouldn't be caught dead carrying that one around in public; my apologies to Stephenie Meyer).

As I steadily read my way through Tamora Pierce's books, and as I got older, a litany of complaints with her writing sprung up in my head and stayed there, so that long after I stopped reading her books and moved on to more of the "serious literature" that my parents implored me to read instead, I still harbored a strange disdain for her and her work.

Of course, all of my criticisms of her work were completely justified. I still maintain that her later work is not nearly as good as her first couple series, and that her characters tend to become anti-stereotypes (ex: the bad-ass queen who bags bandits on horseback in taffeta ball gowns) and the kingdoms she "creates" are eventually very easy to identify as direct copies from real, existing countries. BUT, in my haste to "move on" and cover my tracks as one of the formerly Tamora Pierce-obsessed, I think I might have gone a little too far.

It had been years since I'd even paid a real thought to Tamora Pierce when I desperately grabbed Wild Magic off of my bookshelf as I left home on my way to the airport during a recent holiday from college. Last year, I came to school laden with books that I intended to read over the course of the school year. But at the end of the term, I hadn't properly finished even a single one. So this time when I packed to head back to school all the books I brought were academic, sparing two, and even those two aren't all that compelling as far as novels go. I read enough of the heavy stuff for my classes, so when I'm looking for some bedtime reading, I definitely don't turn to Feynman's Six Easy Pieces or Nehru's biography for a literary lullaby (unless I wanted to either bore myself to sleep or be lulled by words that are too big for a sleepy 2AM brain). When I look for a book to keep myself happy and entertained, especially nowadays, I find that I'm more likely to turn to the old faithfuls.

I started reading Wild Magic on the plane flight back to school, and was pretty surprised to find that it was more or less as good now as it was when I first read it. I suppose it was unexpected because of all the mental bashing I'd done of Tamora Pierce's work, but the characters still sprang out of the page and the plot still gripped like it used to. Granted, I'm now painfully aware of all the weird, unnecessary, annoying things that Pierce does with her writing, but I'm also willing to overlook all of that for the sheer enjoyment I got out of readingWild Magic. As my friend Eldridge so aptly described it, reading an easy, fun novel like that is like a brain massage--and goodness knows I need as many of those as I can get this year! I finished the book feeling rejuvenated and, for the first time in a while, excited about reading. It's been too long since I've wanted to find an excuse to pick up a book (I went so far as to go to the gym and work out for a good hour just so I could read while doing so).

Anyway, on to the review. God, this has been a long-winded post.

Alright. So, Wild Magic and its three sequels follow the adventures of Veralidaine "Daine" Sarrasri (Ridonkulous name? Yes, I think so) as she attempts to find her way in the kingdom of Tortall after her escape from her village in the country of Galla. She is young--about thirteen--, pretty, and a skilled archer. Her best friend is a ornery pony named Cloud. We quickly learn that she is an orphan (her family was killed by bandits) and that she has what she calls a "knack with animals". She meets Onua, the woman responsible for choosing horses and ponies for the Tortallan Royal Stables, and gets hired on to be her assistant. Together, the two lead the new herd of ponies south towards Tortall, getting into their share of trouble along the way.
With the help and tutelage of Tortallan mage Numair Salmalin, Daine discovers that she possesses wild magic, a rare type of magic that gives her a connection to animals (among other things). She learns to tap into it, and tackles her difficult past along the way. As her magic becomes stronger, Daine realizes that she can sense the presence of and communicate with Immortals--mythical and often dangerous creatures that were banished to the Divine Realms hundreds of years ago by mortal mages. This skill proves very useful when it comes to light that meddling sorcerers have begun releasing the immortals into the Mortal Realms. The story comes to a head when she and her new friends are attacked by raiders intent on the destruction of the Tortallan royal family. With the help of her magic, Daine helps save the day and discovers herself at home in a new country.

Wild Magic was and still is a fantastically satisfying read. I recommend it to anyone above the age of 10, and especially to those fantasy-inclined (but reluctant) readers. Tamora Pierce's work is both fun and easy to read.

Grade: A
Rating: 10+ (advisory: violence)

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