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Book Review: Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce (a guest review)

Good day fellow readers.  I was invited to give this review by the Media Specialist at our middle school.  She and I regularly discuss book series we think will be interesting to our kids.   I teach Language Arts and my genre is Science Fiction/Fantasy.  She and her assistants have suggested many great series for me to read and I, in turn, sell them to the kids. I get to enjoy books by the ton and I help them by sharing their reading load.  It is the perfect symbiotic relationship. I have been an avid reader since I first realized the squiggles that adults in my family spent so much time staring at had meaning.  I have a tendency to stick with authors once I enjoy one of their books/series.  On a day similar to many others, I walked into our Media Center to let my kids circulate.  Little did I know that this was going to be a memorable day.  On this day I was introduced to Tamora Pierce’s work. I was asked to read a fantasy novel with pre-teens as the protagonists and tell the specialists whether I thought it would have interest for our age group.  Since then I have devoured everything I could find by Ms. Pierce.  When the Media Specialist recently asked me to read and review Tamora Pierce’s latest novel, I accepted instantly.

The book in question is Battle Magic and it returns the reader to the Emelan universe many should find familiar. If you like Fantasy, Adventure, Magic, pre-teen protagonists, quests, or nontraditional families, this series will excite you. The Circle of Magic series features four young people around the age of eleven who are all outcasts for various reasons.  These young protagonists each receive their own book that chronicles their early life; describes their culture and reason for outcast status; and explains how they were brought together. They all were discovered or rescued by Niko, a powerful mage, who begins the children’s training in their own special brand of magic.  Magic in the Emelanese Universe has many different forms and seems to be related to the various cultures represented.  Pierce does an excellent job of giving each specific culture its own brand of magic complete with rituals and procedures.  Most people in this universe study what is called Academic Magic, which requires years of study and various rituals, written spells, chants, gestures, and/ or implements to master.  

With the foundlings gathered by Master Niko, we discover a new type of magic called Ambient Magic that is totally different and difficult to detect by the usual means.  The end result of this is that the kids in question, Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar, are assumed to lack magic entirely.  The strange things that happen around them (along with other cultural factors) end up causing them to be exiled or shunned by their friends and families.  Once they are gathered together amongst more open minded people, their unique talents are discovered and they begin their training in earnest. The kids quickly become powerful mages in their own right and are granted Mage Status at an extremely early age. This can tend to rub older mages the wrong way at times causing mistreatment and other problems for the kids. 

The series then continues by giving each child his/her own book to explore their individual adventures.  Along the way, the students and their masters become a nontraditional family with the children identifying each other as siblings. During their travels, each young mage finds a protégé that they must instruct.  Instructing other young people teaches valuable lessons to the young mages.  Battle Magic expands on a war that was briefly mentioned in two other books in the series.  It explains what happens during one of those periods of missing time found in many literary series.

The three main characters in Battle Magic are: 

Rosethorn, an adult Plant Mage and Dedicate of the Winding Circle Temple

Briar, a possibly reformed former thief and an Ambient Plant Mage who is 16 years old

and Evvy (11 years old), an escaped former slave/beggar and potential Ambient Stone Mage under the tutelage of Briar amongst others. 

Rosethorn and Briar have become close over the years together and they now behave more like mother and son than teacher and student. This is significant because both of them have life experiences that cause them to hold emotions inside. Briar, like many teens, begins to be overprotective of those he loves. This becomes a source of tension as they travel further into a small country surrounded by enemies.  

At the beginning of the book we find the trio  at the end of several years of travelling and on the way to Gyongxe (an analog of Tibet in the real world). They are acquaintances of the God-king (Dalai Lama) of this small nation situated at the top of the Emelan universe. Gyongxe is known for being the closest to the gods both physically and spiritually.  Every religion in the known universe has a temple in this mountain country, including the First Temple of Rosethorn’s own religion.  While visiting with the God-king, they receive an official invitation from Weishu, the Emperor of Yanjin (analog of real world China) to visit his world famous gardens. Rosethorn and Briar (Plant Mages) simply cannot pass up this opportunity.  Weishu gives our heroes the utmost respect and hospitality on their visit.  He treats them like noble guests, even though Briar and Evvy are clearly reformed street children.  The trio soon begins to feel uncomfortable in Yanjin, especially when they see how the Emperor deals with a lack of perfection in even the smallest plant in his garden.  They begin to think of the Emperor as a “monster in human skin” who seems to command immeasurable armies that constantly drill for war.  In addition to this, Weishu keeps the Prince from a neighboring country caged and in chains.  As Evvy and Briar get closer to this captive, Parahan, they soon find they struggle with the notion of leaving him in chains.  Just before they leave Yanjin Parahan gives them frightening news.  Emperor Weishu plans to invade Gyongxe very soon with his overwhelming armies.  Rosethorn, as a Dedicate of the Living Circle Temple, feels it is her duty to warn the god-king and help protect the First Temple.  Her companions insist on joining her despite her protestations.  They hurry to Gyongxe, with the Imperial Army close behind, to help the small country fight a seemingly impossible war. Their love for each other, their magical abilities, and their honor will all be tested to the utmost in the impending struggle. 

Once again Tamora Pierce has returned us to the Emelan Universe.  Her descriptions of the varied scenery of this mountainous region in the far north are very lush.  You can feel the differences between this region and all the others she has described in the past.  Like Evvy, I could feel the mountains singing to me as I travelled along beside the group. Tamora is not afraid to tackle very serious subjects like war, abandonment, slavery, torture (including kids), class differences, and romantic love.  She does so in a way that is realistic without being unsuitable for her audience.  I do think this one is targeted at a slightly older group than the first books in the series, but this makes sense since the protagonists are becoming young adults by now. This book is more action oriented than the others in this series.  It seems that she feels we are familiar enough with the main characters that we do not need as much character development in this iteration.  She jumps right into the action and it seldom relents.  Ms. Pierce does her usual excellent job describing battle strategy and the horrors of war, but does a bit less with the creative magic of the trio.  They seem to fall into a pattern using the same strategies each time they fight.  This applies mostly to Rosethorn and Briar who rely on their famous thorn/vine bombs repeatedly.  They are admittedly very cool effects, however.  Evvy does explore some creative uses for her ambient magic, and she meets some very unusual yet powerful friends. The plot is a bit convoluted at times, but most of the issues seem to stem from the constraints placed on the story by the timeline of the series and the references in Melting Stones and Will of the Empress.  

Ms. Pierce could have done a bit more with the side characters since most of them seem one dimensional.  Parahan (escaped slave of the Emperor) is the exception to this rule, and he left me wanting to know more of his back story. She experiments with Point of View in this novel as well. Her previous books were usually written from the point of view of the main character, but this one jumps from chapter to chapter, and sometimes paragraph to paragraph.  I liked the change and thought it underscored the importance of each character’s individual adventure within the story.   

I would definitely recommend this book to all fans of Tamora Pierce, fantasy, or young protagonists. I strongly suggest, however, that you read the earlier books in the Circle of Magic series first to get a working knowledge of the characters,  their relationships, and the varied systems of magic in Emelan.

Guest reviewer Glenn Horton is a 7th Grade language Arts teacher at TLT contributer Robin’s school.

Teen Issues: Street Harassment (guest post by Pauline Holdsworth)

Street harassment isn’t how we envision teenagers learning about themselves. We don’t name it as a form of education or discuss its consequences or argue over its curriculum – and in leaving out the lived experiences teenagers have with harassment in public spaces from our conversations, we’re leaving glaring gaps in what they’re being taught. 
From Stop Street Harassment: “Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop. “

Here’s the kind of education street harassment gives you . . . 

You learn that you live in a world where the act of saying no makes you ungrateful. You study the reactions of adults around you and learn it’s ruder for you to say you’re uncomfortable than for someone else to harass you. You learn that public spaces aren’t really open to people like you, and you start to chart a different kind of map of the world, one where you’re starting to limit the places you can go. You see the rest of the world operating on a 24-hour day, but you feel your own day steadily shortening: these are the hours of the day you feel comfortable outdoors. On some days you can count that number on one hand. 
Street harassment gives you a powerful and unsettling crash course in sexuality, power dynamics, and consent, and it’s rarely countered by any kind of positive counter-intervention that gives you a different set of rules to work with. It’s also a form of education that starts early. It starts before you’ve had the time or space to explore your sexuality or your body or your boundaries for yourself. 
View complete infographic at Hollaback

Perhaps most powerfully, what street harassment teaches you is that your comfort level, boundaries, and sense of safety aren’t seen as important by the world you live in. Street harassment leads to a slow erosion of consent. Over time, you find yourself saying no less and less frequently. You’re told that girls are supposed to be nice, and you begin to understand that when people say that, what they mean is that girls aren’t supposed to contradict or resist. You smile nervously and try to be polite when strangers approach you on the street, but then when you try to walk away, you’re accused of leading them on. Of asking for it. You are no longer a nice girl. You are an ungrateful bitch. 

The lessons young girls learn from street harassment are the lessons they bring to their relationships. Those lessons tell you that it’s not nice to say no, that you should be happy and grateful and welcoming when you receive attention, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Those lesson spill over into the way you approach public displays of affection, into the boundaries you set, into whether or not you feel comfortable enough to say when you’re not. For many teenage girls, the education they’ve received up until that point has convinced them they don’t even have the right to set boundaries, let alone to re-neogtiate them or demand that they be respected. 
What we need is a different kind of education. That education can come from school systems and teachers and parents and friends, but it can also come from creative alternatives, like books that show a world with different rules. Tamora Pierce’s books show a fantasy world where female protagonists encounter and resist street harassment, intimidation, and abuse, and go on to form all-female temple guards that work to create a sanctuary for survivors. They show communities that band together around collective values and refuse to accept harassment as inevitable. For girls who aren’t seeing those actions and those attitudes modeled around them, it can be incredibly powerful to have access to a fictional world where they are. In many cases, young adult fiction that shows these alternatives can prompt readers to start questioning rules they’ve taken for granted. 
For other readers, that spark can come from books that illustrate the consequences of that constant harassment and erosion of consent in a realistic setting. Jay Asher’s novel 13 Reasons Why is a powerful lesson in bystander intervention through the eyes of a teenage boy who was too late. As he listens to the 13 tapes left by his crush after her suicide, he begins to experience the way their town looked and felt different for her and the way the harassment she experienced slowly wore her down. For readers, especially straight-identified teenage boys, 13 Reasons Why is a desperately necessary window into the education they’re not getting – and it’s something that can prompt them to question the education they are getting about relationships, harassment, and their responsibilities as bystanders. 
When we counter the education street harassment provides with alternative lessons (fictional or otherwise) of our own, we’re equipping young girls with the knowledge they need to write their own rules. In a world where they’re constantly being taught they don’t have to right to, helping them draft those rules is a small but revolutionary act. 

To learn more and get involved visit these organizations:

Help us build a book list: What books can you think of that depict examples of street harassment?  What titles can you think of that show girls standing up to harassment?  And what titles can you think of that give us healthy examples of consent, healthy sexual relationships, and strong teenage girls?  Tell us in the comments.

Pauline Holdsworth is a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism, where she is writing her thesis on media coverage of sexual assault and gender-based violence. She covers gender and women’s issues for Campus Progress, the youth partner to ThinkProgress, and regularly writes about sexual assault prevention and representations of consent and assault in young adult literature and the media. She runs a series on consent-based education, which examines how teachers, librarians, authors, and advocates are working to engage teens in a conversation about consent. Pauline has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Toronto, where she worked at her student newspaper as an arts writer, Senior Arts & Culture Editor, and Editor-in-Chief.

Take 5: Late Summer/ Fall 2013 Books Christie is Looking Forward To

One of the best things I like about conferences is getting ahold of ARCs. Yes, you can get eARCS but sometimes I just like paper. I may be techie but sometimes I’m old-fashioned. And I flew Southwest this past conference, so instead of the huge post office line, I checked ALL of my ARCs. Love the two free checked bags! Here are five of the titles that I am absolutely looking forward to coming out….

Third in the Circle Reforged series, this picks up the story of Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy as they face dangers in unexpected places, and war on all fronts. Expected publication October 2013.

First in a new series by the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Athena and Hermes try to solve the mystery of their slow deaths, only to find enemies and allies in unsuspected places. Can Cassandra hold the key to it all? Expected publication September 2013.

Final book in the Fire and Thorn Series, can Elisa save her kingdom, her love, and discover her true destiny? Expected publication date August 2013.

When Tana wakes up from a party to discover that she, her boyfriend (on the edge and infected with the vampire virus) and a boy who won’t divulge his secrets are the only survivors, she has to save them in a race against the cold in the only way she knows how- straight into Coldtown. Expected publication date September 2013.

First of the Legion series, Kennedy must take her mother’s place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth of her mother’s death and stay alive, racing to find the weapon that might be able to destroy the demon aiming for her and her companions. Expected publication date October 2013.

What awesome titles are you drooling over for late summer/fall?  Share! Share!

5 Minute Booktalks: NaNoWriMo Edition by Kearsten

Did you, like me, start November with a bright and shiny resolution to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days for National Novel Writing Month? If so, I certainly hope you were more successful than my almost 7,000 words. November got too crazy a month for me, and I ended up abandoning my lonely little manuscript after only one week. In an attempt to inspire myself to do better next time, I put together a list of teen books in which writing plays a role – and maybe you’ll be inspired to begin a writing journey of your own!

Pemba’s Songby Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin.  When Pemba moves to a small town in Connecticut, she’s furious with her mother for forcing her to leave all her friends behind in Brooklyn, and can’t imagine anything will be as exciting as what her friends are doing without her. But then Pemba starts seeing a face other than her own looking back at her in her mirror. A sad-eyed woman calling Pemba, “friend”. Encouraged by an older neighbor, Pemba begins researching her home’s history, and then the life of a female slave who died there. As she learns more, she records her fears, frustrations and loneliness in song lyrics and verse:  “it’s the city symphony/ I’m wishin’for, rockin’me like a harmony.”


Terrier (Beka Cooper, Bk 1) by Tamora Pierce. If you’ve heard or asked for writing advice, number two (after read, read, READ), is usually something along the lines of  “write every day”. The easiest way to do this is to keep a journal, just like Beka Cooper, in  Pierce’s beyond-awesome fantasy series. Beka’s a rookie Provost’s Guard, and requests the toughest part of the capital city of Tortall as her “keeping the peace” training assignment – after all, it’s where she grew up. Beka’s world is one of nobles and street toughs, magic users and thieves, and she must use all her abilities to survive her first year as a Guard in the training yard and the streets, even if it means telling others what pigeons tell her about the dead…
Breathing Underwaterby Alex Flinn. Nick’s dealt well with his father’s rages….or so he thought,  until the day his relationship with Caitlin, his dream girl, gets violent. Court-ordered to keep a journal and attend counseling and anger management classes, or else go to jail, Nick begins writing down his “truth”.  Don’t you want to know how a guy goes from loving his girlfriend’s smile so much that he “wanted to put it in his pocket to look at over and over”, all the way to a restraining order? This one is dark and distressing, yet a story that needs to be told and read.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. When T.C., Augie, and Alé began their freshman year, not one of them figured it would be life-changing, but as they each describe that year as part of their junior English essay project, their stories of love, discovery, baseball, sign language, and Mary Poppins unfold in delightful, witty detail.  Kluger’s writing style is unusual and fun, and he lets Alé, T.C. and Augie tell their stories through essays, Instant Messenger, email, musical theater cast lists – even on Secret Service letterhead. The likelihood of your getting through this book without falling in love with at least one of these characters is highly unlikely.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. Okay, so you want to try this writing experiment again and you refuse to be deterred, eh? Why not try this funny, non-fiction guide to writing a novel in one month, written by the creator of NaNoWriMo himself? Baty includes writing tips on location, setting, character development, plot ideas, and, most importantly, the best ways to teach your friends and family how to guilt and harass you into finishing that novel – with love, of course. The book guides you through weeks one through four (making this helpful in November, but in all the other months as well!), and, should you discover that you’re one who can persevere, No Plot? No Problem! also has suggestions for editing and getting published.

Now, get reading and writing!  You don’t have to wait until next November 🙂

5 Books written by Teens:
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley