May 4, 2022

REVIEW Briar's Book (Circle of Magic #4) by Tamora Pierce

Briar's Book (Circle of Magic Book 4) by Tamora Pierce
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: June 24, 2006 (originally published April 1, 1999)
Format: Paperback (Personal Library) + Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Scholastic 

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Each of the first three books in the Circle of Magic quartet focused on one of the young mages at Winding Circle’s Discipline Cottage. Now, it’s time for readers to delve deeper into the story of the final child, the young budding plant mage Briar Moss in Briar’s Book (pun one hundred percent intended). Briar and his teacher Rosethorn are thrust into the heart of an epidemic raging through the city and must work against the clock to help those infected (and themselves) before it's too late. 

A re-read of Briar’s Book in 2022 feels different than the first time I read the book, given that we’ve been dealing with a pandemic for the last two years. I respect Duke Vedris even more as a leader now than I did back then. I also respect the policies and procedures that Winding Circle had in place to shut things down and protect the citizens. Despite the availability of magic, it took hours and hours of work and study to fix the disease. Magic is not an instant fix (despite many authors using it as such, and people wanting some sort of magic bullet to get rid of COVID). I appreciate how Tamora Pierce subtly touched on issues like classism and health inequality in this book. The epidemic started in the sewers, and some characters see it as the victim's own fault because of their poverty. That particular claim was refuted quite strongly, given that patient zero Flick (Briar's street rat friend) would have asked for help earlier if she had the money to do so.  

It's interesting that none of the books deal with some sort of "big bad". Outside of the pirates in the second book, the problems are natural disasters (earthquake, wildfire, and epidemic, respectively). This shifts the dynamic of the book, and how the children deal with the problems (there is no villain to unite against, it's all “faceless”). This aspect of the book is another way Tamora Pierce differentiates herself from other fantasy authors, and I'm all here for it. 

It’s been clear since the first book that all of the children’s teachers are very powerful and talented, but Briar’s Book made it explicitly clear that all of the teachers (Niko, Rosethorn, Lark, and Frostpine) are considered great mages. Rosethorn’s power is a prominent part of this book, but I enjoyed getting to see Rosethorn and Briar’s relationship on display. Specifically, how it developed from being just a student-teacher relationship to Briar seeing Rosethorn as his surrogate mother. Once again, the theme of found family is central to the story of the Circle of Magic books. 

Overall, Briar’s Book is an entertaining page-turner and a great close to the Circle of Magic quartet. I’m excited to re-read the Circle Opens books and The Will of Empress, and see the foursome at a slightly older age. While I would happily recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages, I think it’s solidly between the middle-grade and young adult audience levels. Middle-grade readers that are new to Tamora Pierce’s books should start with this series, while young adult readers should start with the series that are set in Tortall (Song of the Lioness, Protector of the Small, and Daughter of the Lioness are some of my personal favorites). Tamora Pierce remains one of my favorite authors of all time, and I hope she releases more books soon!

About the Author

TAMORA PIERCE is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over eighteen novels set in the fantasy realm of Tortall. She first captured the imagination of readers with her debut novel, Alanna: The First Adventure. Since then, her bestselling and award-winning titles have pushed the boundaries of fantasy and young adult novels to introduce readers to a rich world populated by strong, believable heroines. Her books have been translated into many languages, and some are available on audio from Listening Library and Full Cast Audio. In 2013, she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” Pierce lives in Syracuse, New York, with her husband, Tim, and their cats, birds, and occasional rescued wildlife. 

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