“First Test”

Tamora Pierce; graphic novel adaptation by Devin Grayson and Becca Farrow

I somehow missed that this was going to be a thing until the day before it was released. It took me something like ten seconds between finding out it was up for preorder and actually putting in the preorder; I consider it a testament to my willpower that I made it days after it was delivered before I finally let it jump the queue and be my next thing to read.

Keladry of Mindelan is my comfort reading. The visual treatment here brought me so much joy; it’s quicker to read than the original novel is, and I suspect I’m going to wind up rereading it quite often as a result. Sitting down to reread the Protector of the Small quartet is an investment, it’s what I’m doing with my reading time for a while. This, I can get through in something like an hour.

There’s a couple places where I could feel the edits, but for the most part, everything felt natural; sure, the story was abridged some, but all of it made sense.1

Two thoughts on this visual treatment, specific to that: my immediate thought upon seeing Neal was “he looks like Sokka!” and I sorta held on to that feeling throughout.2

And, even more so in this visual treatment where the words stand alone more, one of my favorite quotes jumped out at me. I was glad it made it in:

The short sword is the sword of law. Without it, we are only animals. The long sword is the sword of duty. It is the terrible sword, the killing sword.

It should surprise precisely nobody that I’m going to recommend this book. I grabbed the paperback—I think I already knew that this was going to be an oft-reread comfort book for me, and wanted the comfortable feel of a paperback to match that. Please, vote with your wallet; get them to do the rest of the series, too.3 I really want to see a baby griffin. And, weirdly, one of the killing machines.

  1. Well, okay, the fact that the Gift was shown (only twice) and was the same vague sparkles each time instead of being the color of each person’s magic, that bugged me a bit.
  2. Hakuin Seastone also sorta reminded me of Zuko, although I think he’s a bit more Live Action TV Series Zuko than Animated Series Zuko.
  3. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

The Family Cooper

Tamora Pierce

I generally follow a rule of “only post a review the first time I read a book,” and while that seems like a reasonable policy to stick to, I do occasionally feel the desire to break from it. In this case, it’s a little bit that I feel silly not acknowledging that I’ve just finished reading 9 books, but mostly that I want to heap praise upon Tamora Pierce, who is one of my absolute favorite authors.

This time, what I read through was all the books that, to a greater or lesser degree, focus on a member of the Cooper family. Following the in-universe chronological order, this was the Beka Cooper trilogy, the Song of the Lioness quartet, and the Trickster’s duology. It is, I’ve realized, an interesting way to read through them. My thoughts, though, are definitely in light of not having this be my first read through.

These three collections of books are a really wonderful way to get acquainted with the Tortall universe. Alanna is the place it all started, the grand fantasy telling a big story about big events. Alanna herself, the Lioness, is a hero known well beyond Tortall’s borders; from Aly’s eyes, we see that even in Rajmuat, an ocean away, people still know of the Lioness. She’s the heroine, moving in the innermost circles of power.

Beka, on the other hand, starts among the lowest of the low. She was born in the slums, the Lower City of Corus, and is desperately uncomfortable around those sorts of powerful people. It’s very nearly the opposite perspective on this universe. Alanna takes her nobility for granted; Beka knows the biggest change she can make is in the lives of a handful of people.

Aly fills out the middle, in a way. She was born into the nobility, daughter of the Lioness, but her heart lies in espionage. She’s a spy, and she winds up enmeshed in a popular uprising. Her work will change the world in a way more akin to Alanna’s than Beka’s, but she won’t be in the history books as the protagonist. Her job is to be invisible, to effect change without being the center of attention. And as she walks between those two worlds, she shows us the spaces between.

I absolutely love a well-built universe like this. You can tell that the Lioness quartet was the first written, because it’s the most compact, the least filled-out of the universe, but each additional series in that world added more. By now, it feels massive, vibrant, and alive. It feels like what the Marvel movies can never quite accomplish; the protagonists of each previous series are present in a way that cinematic universes never manage outside of the anchoring ensemble pieces. There’s no hand-waving of why the hero of the previous one doesn’t show up to help this time—they’ve always got their own lives visible in the new series.1

I love these books, and Tamora Pierce is great. That’s gonna be the end of every review I write of her work; these are comfort-reading for me. I’ll be halfway through a reread of one of her books and only then realize what I’m doing, and that’s how I tell I’m more stressed than I thought. Seriously, go read anything she wrote.2 It’s all excellent.

  1. Two examples, to compare: Aly can’t call Numair Salmalín, introduced in the Wild Mage quartet, for help, because he’s busy juggling his duties in the Scanran War (the center of the Protector of the Small quartet) and trying to help his wife through her pregnancy.

    Captain America can’t call Iron Man to help during the events of The Winter Soldier because… he can’t remember his phone number? The real answer is “because they didn’t want to pay for Robert Downey Junior and the Iron Man VFX,” but there’s no in-universe reason given in a satisfying way.

  2. These are Bookshop affiliate links – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

Circle of Magic

Tamora Pierce

I suspect I have mentioned in the past that Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series is one of my favorite things to read. As a general rule, I reread most of her bibliography at least once a year – quite often when I’m stressed. Tamora Pierce is my comfort reading.1

I’ve recently stumbled my way into a lovely group of people, and among many of the projects we created for ourselves was something of a book club. And we started with the Circle of Magic.2

And here’s where I begin to struggle in writing this, nominally a review of the first quartet. I’ve been reading and rereading these books for so long that it’s impossible for me to come at them with fresh eyes. I can’t even begin to put myself in the mind of someone who hasn’t read them, to try to figure out what about them I should mention to convince someone they’re worth the time to read. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their influence.

Instead, I’m just going to list some thoughts about the different books, in no particular order.

Tris’s Book is, I think, my favorite of the four. I identified the most with Tris, growing up – a total bookworm, and too quick a temper. It is, unsurprisingly, in Tris’s Book that we get to see what Tris is thinking, and what made her that person – and, conversely, that we see her start to grow, and learn to trust.

Briar’s Book scares me to this day. I’d say “even more so, considering,” but, having just reread it last week, I don’t think the amount it scares me has changed, even in light of living through a pandemic. It’s still terrifying – and it turns out to have been pretty accurate about just how scary, and lonely, and crushing it all is.

“Most disasters are fast, and big. You can see everyone else’s life got overturned when yours did. Houses are smashed, livestock’s dead. But plagues isolate people. They shut themselves inside while disease takes a life at a time, day after day. It adds up. Whole cities break under the load of what was lost. People stop trusting each other, because you don’t know who’s sick.”

Daja’s Book is all about the important of family, and how family doesn’t always match what you grew up thinking it would. You can find more people who love you, and who you love, and they can be just as much family as the one you were born into.

Daja’s Book is also… a big spoiler, in how I’m going to phrase this, so I’ll tuck it into a footnote. You’ve been warned!3

Sandry’s Book… is coming home.

I cannot, cannot express how much I love these books. Please, please give them a try.4 And, because I adore Tamora Pierce, also check out her patreon – the next goal is an admirable one.5

  1. In fact, many times the thing that makes me realize quite how stressed I am is the realization that I’ve picked up one of her novels. It’s automatic!
  2. The book club may have come about as a result of my strongly urging everyone to read these books. As far as the #influencer life goes, “encouraging people to read Tamora Pierce” is probably the best possible outcome.
  3. Daja’s Book is a beautiful example of a happy ending in a book, with everything getting tied together beautifully. It’s not just that every thread gets wrapped up nicely, it’s that half of them are solved by being the solution to another problem. To borrow a phrase that I first heard as a descriptor of another favorite piece of media of mine, it’s competence porn.
  4. I’m breaking my usual ‘use Bookshop links instead of Amazon’ pattern here, but Sandry’s Book isn’t available on Bookshop at all, and based on the paperback prices on Amazon, is thoroughly out of print. The Kindle edition is available, though!
  5. I’m of the opinion that she (or her staff) haven’t done a good enough job of advertising this, because I’ve had her public blog in my RSS reader for years, and just found out about the Patreon a few days ago. So now I’m doing my part by telling you, dear reader. Go support her! She’s great!

Tamora Pierce is (Finally) Getting A TV Show

Peter White, Deadline:

Lionsgate and Little Women and King Lear producer Playground Entertainment have teamed on a major fantasy project – a television adaptation of Tamora Pierce’s expansive Tortall Universe series.

I absolutely adore Tamora Pierce, and I cannot overstate how excited I am about this.1

[The companies have] hopes of turning it into a tentpole series that crosses over between fans of Game of Thrones and YA novels.

Obviously, everyone hopes their show will be the next Game of Thrones, but I do think Tortall offers a large enough universe to pull it off. And, again, I would love to see Pierce’s work getting the big-budget approach.

  1. Did I sit down to write a blog post about it for the explicit purpose of making sure there’s some buzz about it online? Yes. Yes I did. I’m trying to encourage them to make it and make it well. 

My Favorite Books

I’m dropping this bit of introduction in at the start to explain a bit: I wrote this post about a week ago, and I’m posting it now because a) I was too ill to do anything yesterday, and b) Terry Pratchett, mentioned below, passed away on Thursday. He was an amazing writer, and a huge inspiration to me and millions of others. I was consciously aware of the fact that he was dying – his decline due to Alzheimer’s Disease is a matter of public record – and I’d even read his last book, Raising Steam, which was almost painful to read. It was an amazing book, capturing that sense of building something that made me love The Truth so much, and it managed to include just about every character he’d ever written – a tall order in a series that covered more than 50 books and pieces of spin-off media. And it hurt so much because it was so clearly a goodbye. He knew he wasn’t long for this world, and he was able to say goodbye in such a beautiful way. So I’m dedicating this post to Sir Terry Pratchett: you were a phenomenal man, and you will never be forgotten.

Continuing my trend of ‘favorite [category of media]’ posts, I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite books today! (I did that post about what I’m reading a little while ago, but this is more about the stuff that I’ll go back to time and time again.)

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Easily my favorite book, this is (quoting the cover) a tour de force of a book, written as a response to her own “Tough Guide to Fantasyland,” which mocked the stereotypical fantasy novel. Dark Lord is set in one of those stereotypical fantasy novel, but from the other perspective: the ‘hero’ of the novel is actually a tourist, paying an exorbitant amount of money to an exploitative tour agency in order to go on an adventure in another world with magic and monsters. The book ignores those ‘heroes’ and instead follows the ‘dark lord,’ someone who was forced to take up the role to make the tourists experience a proper ‘adventure.’ In true DWJ style, the book starts off slow, but by the time you hit the midpoint of the novel, you realize that you’re physically incapable of putting the book down.

High Wizardry by Diane Duane

I had to think about which of Diane Duane’s books I wanted to mention – Omnitopia: Dawn was a strong contender, but I can still remember where I was when I got So You Want To Be A Wizard, the first book in her Young Wizards series (which includes High Wizardry). The series is one of my favorite of all time, and while I’m not entirely sure if the chronology matches up, I often attribute my wanting to be a programmer with the influence that the Young Wizards series had on my life. The idea that magic wasn’t some sort of inherent trait, but just the ability to convince the world to do what you wanted, combined with the concept that it was just a matter of saying a few words… Well, it got even better when, in High Wizardry, the concept of a computer as an instrument of magic was explored in a beautiful way that, aside from the very specific elements of the computer in question, still feels like science fiction.1

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce

I tried, I really tried, but I couldn’t pick just one. Honestly, her other major set of works, the Tortall series, is also amazing, and should probably show up as another contender on here, but I had to put the Circle first because it’s what I read first. It’s a beautiful exploration of a unique system of magic with characters that I fall in love with all over again every time I read the books.2 Seriously, go read them, I cannot recommend them enough. And I’m still hoping for a movie series, it would be perfect.

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Another one where it was hard to pick from a massive series, The Truth follows the invention and growth of the newspaper and newspaper industry in Ankh-Morpork, the ‘big wahooni’ of the Discworld. I’ve read just about3 every book Sir Pratchett4 wrote,5 and I’ve loved very nearly all of them. But it’s this one that stood out the most to me – the sense of something being built, plus the characteristic silliness6 and just a hint of hair-raising horror make it my favorite out of his works.

Honorable Mention

I’ve also got to throw a plug for David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster in here, just because that was the other book that was a big influence on my footnote usage. Another one I read in high school english, Cloud Atlas, goes in here, because of how I reacted when I read the last couple pages of Letters from Zedelgheim. No spoilers, but I’ll just say that I was blissfully oblivious to all of the subtext going on, and when I figured it out on the second-to-last page I dropped the book and sat in silence for a while, and was rather inconsolable for the next couple days. I’ll also drop a plug for Robert Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, which has had a lot of influence on my ideas about artificial intelligence, and another for Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which is why I’m so hopeful about the future of 3D printing. A mention for Iain Banks’ Culture series, a beautiful, sprawling set of space operas which I adore. Finally, a shoutout to Patricia C. Wrede, who wrote both the Enchanted Forest series and the Frontier Magic series, both of which I would be happy to read another thousand times.

I read a lot, folks. Hit up those comments – have you read any of these books? And what are your favorites? I’m always looking for more to read!

  1. That is to say, it doesn’t feel out of date, at all. A ‘new millenium edition’ was recently released, which made it work out even better, but it honestly had aged beautifully before that. 
  2. I’m being deliberately vague about which series I’m talking about because, honestly, it’s true of both. 
  3. but not quite 
  4. He was knighted for his writing. Yes, he was that good. 
  5. I’m adding this footnote in as part of my editing sweep – I’ll admit to having had to blink back tears as I changed this to the past tense. 
  6. And footnotes, which clearly influenced me a lot.