Some books I have to wait longer for than others and this is one of them. When I was a freshman in highschool The Will of the Empress came out which I really enjoyed. I was curious where Pierce would take her Circle of Magic universe next, it's her lesser known series but I've always liked the imagination in the magic and the settings. I had almost forgotten this boom was coming out when I saw her at the 2013 National Book Festival (and, in a twist that made me feel like I was at a con, I had to miss her talk to get in a good spot in line for her signing). Since that's in the fall obviously it took me a bit longer to actually get to the book but, given the longer and longer breaks between her books, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing!
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Briar, Rosethorn, and Briar's new student Evvy continue their journey across the world and have arrived in Gyongxi, home to the first Living Circle temple that Rosethorn belongs to and that raised Briar for several years. As they continue traveling beyond their they learn that the conquering empire of Yanjing they learn of a plot to conquer the small, mountainious nation and must hurry to try and help prevent this terrible fate.
As noted earlier, it's been years and years since Pierce had published anything in this universe, even Melting Stones (an audio-book-later-printed that focused on Evvy's adventures during the same time period) was originally released in 2007. In Empress we meet our characters again and see that Briar is badly suffering from PTSD from a war that we're not even sure if they won. At the very least there were heavy casualties so naturally I was expecting something rather dark. I didn't have a chance to retread Empress but I did have a chance to skim through Melting Stones after this and my initial impression was right, the tone here is markedly lighter which makes it rather awkward. If someone was to tell me that PTSD can take a while to set in then some things would make sense but still, Briar especially seems to come out of this story in much better shape than he was later on and it's hard to reconcile these differences. It's less awkward for the other characters, Rosethorn and Evvy always seemed as if they had compartmentalized it better, but it would have felt off if this book had been lighter in tone than the other books and considering this one is a war story that makes it seem even more odd.
This is all a shame since this book has a lot of the things I really like about Pierce's books in it. She's always been rather creative in the use and integration of magic into her various settings and, especially in the Circle universe, she always creates such interesting settings for fantasy work. This book also continued her progression of giving the side characters more time to narrate, Evvy is once again a point of view character and I think this was the first time Rosethorn was and it's nice especially since all three of these characters have such different experiences and viewpoints, even if they get along well (although, going back to how the tones feel different, Evvy seems much much more bratty in Melting Stones than she does here and I can think of no explanation for that one).
And yet, that was a cop-out ending. I usually avoid talking specifics about story endings but this one not only removes the chance of various cool magics introduced here from working their way into other stories but I think also attempts to explain in a very awkward way why what Briar tells about his travels in Empress seem so different. It feels strongly as if she had written herself into a corner (who knows, maybe all these years later she discovered that she didn't want to write another story involving a grim war, Lady Knight has enough nightmare-fuel war stories for any fiction author thankyouverymuch) and I really don't think this was the best way to deal with it. And that was the final nail for me, I'm crushed that this book I've been looking forward to for so long was not only not as good as I hoped but not even as good as I've come to expect and it is making me worried about her next book, I'm not even sure at this point what's up next on the docket, and if that one will disappoint me as well.