In this review series, I’m rereading all of Tamora Pierce’s books set in the Tortall universe in preparation for Tempests and Slaughter, the 20th Tortall book. In this post I’ll be reviewing Wild Magic the first book in the Immortals quartet.
My copy of Wild Magic is probably the most battered and torn of all my Tamora Pierce books, and it might be the most battered book I own. You see, while I’m kinda anal about spine creases and keeping my books looking pristine, my twin sister isn’t, and Wild Magic is one of her favorites. My sister is an animal lover, and for her and many others, Daine’s story is like a perfect storm of fantasy, animals, and a relatable character.
It’s not hard to see why. Veralidaine Sarrasri, or Daine, immediately sets herself apart from her predecessor Alanna. Daine is a commoner, with an ability that’s much more grounded in reality and yet has the capacity to be even more powerful than Alanna’s own magic. While Alanna was a thoroughly practical noble, Daine’s a practical commoner, and it’s not hard to relate to her homespun way of seeing the world. For many Americans, especially those who have lived in a rural context, Daine’s backstory feels a lot more immediate and realistic. For young girls that love dogs and horses, Daine’s story also dovetails a lot more with the interests they already have. She feels a lot more like someone you know, or someone you could be.
While Alanna’s books had a host of interesting characters that felt very fleshed-out, Alanna’s story was always built upon common fantasy tropes–the Chosen One, the knight errant, etc. While Alanna’s story is pretty good at deconstructing these tropes, the fact remains that they’re still the bones on which it’s built. The Immortals quartet is built on–people, really. On Tamora Pierce looking around the world she’s made and asking how realistic people would act in this fantastical world. In Wild Magic we see that Thayet and Jonathan and Alanna have worked hard to change the world they took charge of in the last pages of Lioness Rampant. Many authors would be excused for letting their world stay in basically the same shape it was in from time period to time period, but Pierce admittedly spends a lot of time thinking deeply about what her characters would say and do, even in the time periods the books don’t cover. As a result, the world Wild Magic enters feels a lot more dynamic and real, as characters who ought to have changed the world, well, did.
The cast of characters Daine enters into is wonderful and full of winners. We get to see new aspects of Alanna, Jonathan, and Thayet, as mature adults running a country. Buri, Sarge, and Onua all shine as truly likeable and well-written characters of color; I wrote in Lioness Rampant that Pierce seemed to have improved her ability to write POC when she started writing about the K’mir, and the K’miri characters continue to be among my favorites. (It helps that they’re all strong women.) And Numair, of course, is Numair. I think he’s purposefully written a bit lightly during this book; his primary characteristics are that he’s a bit silly and that he’s very very powerful, here. However, he’s already very easy to love, and his character will deepen over the course of the series. As he should; as we know, Daine is going to relate to him differently at sixteen than she does at thirteen.
I don’t have much against this book; I think it’s a very dynamic character introduction, bringing us into a world without making us feel like we’ve just read a book that was just exposition for another book. Alanna: The First Adventure successfully set up an entire universe, but it also did that by going over four years of in-story time in a relatively compact book. I enjoy when Tamora Pierce takes it slower and develops particular weeks or months more, and this book shows that well. The subplot of the Queen’s Riders and their training allows the story to move and change location without feeling like it’s moving you someplace else because you might be bored where you were. If I were to have a solid criticism against this book, it’s that reading it for the first time leaves the reader very confused about why Daine is being visited by a badger god, and very confused by Daine’s brief visit to the afterlife. Of course, every series needs to have unanswered questions, but that’s my personal feedback, based on my fuzzy memories of when I first read this book.
Wild Magic is a fun, competent beginning to a magical story. While this book feels extremely grounded, I know this quartet will go very much off the rails, so it will be fun to see how the advanced stakes of the story feels as it develops. Please feel free to add your own take in the comments or to talk to me on Twitter.