After a short break, I’ve returned to Tortall, and guys, it’s great to be back. I decided to resume my long-overdue Tamora Pierce education for two reasons: first, the Immortals quartet was completely new to me (as a kid, I had a passing familiarity with the Alanna, Kel, and Aly series, having read a few chapters of each before abandoning them); and also I found out that my sister has all four of the books in one volume, so I stole it from her. Sorry, borrowed.
The first book takes place about ten years after Lioness Rampant left off – a lot of familiar characters are here, including Jonathan, Thayet, George, and of course Alanna (we also get to meet Jon and Alanna’s respective kids, and even though I knew from the Trickster series that Alanna and George have three kids, my heart still squee’d super hard just like it did at the end of The Deathly Hallows SHUT UP THAT EPILOGUE WAS BEAUTIFUL AND NECESSARY I WILL FIGHT YOU). Our heroine this time is Daine (short for Verlidaine Sarrasri – oof) and we first meet her getting a job working with the royal horsemistress of Tortall. Daine is good with animals, and because this is a Tamora Pierce book, not only does Daine have a way with animals, but she can actually talk to them. Daine’s magic is different than Alanna’s though – she has something called “wild magic” and may not, in fact, be completely human.
Alanna will always be first in my heart, but I have to admit that I already prefer this series to the Lioness quartet. First, because the problems that plagued the Lioness series are not present here. Pierce’s most obvious struggle in those books was the fact that she was forced to cram about eight years’ worth of action into four books, and often the pacing felt rushed and disjointed. The action of Wild Magic occurs over a couple of months, so it never feels like we’re rushing through events to get to the main conflict. The return of so many familiar characters means that, aside from telling Daine’s story, the book also serves as kind of reunion for the characters we loved in Alanna’s series. Also the conflict of the story is much better here – in this book, we learn that the Immortals have been released from magical captivity and are wreaking havoc on Tortall. Immortals include stock fantasy creatures like dragons and griffins, but we also have some original creations like spidrens and stormwings. Duke Roger, the primary antagonist in the Lioness series, always felt like more of a cartoon villain than a real threat, and even the mean gods were never much of a concern because Alanna was the Goddess’s best buddy or something. The creatures in Wild Magic are generally terrifying, and I found myself wishing that someone would make this series into a movie, just so I could see all of this brought to life – imagine what Guillermo del Toro could do with the stormwings!
It’s really unfair to compare this series with Alanna’s (even though I keep doing that), because even though they take place in the same universe and include many of the same characters, the similarities end there. The books are alike on a surface level (plucky girl character learning to be a badass and use cool magic with the help of talking animal friends) but in reality the books are trying to do very different things. Alanna’s books were all about teaching girls about hard work, courage, and never letting society dictate what you can and can’t do. Wild Magic is about how family is sometimes what you find, not what you’re given. It spends a lot of time exploring the concept of loyalty and sacrifice, and in much more eloquent detail than Alanna’s books ever did – there’s a great scene at the end, when Daine is trying to prevent her animal friends from fighting in the big climactic battle because she doesn’t want them to get hurt, and she realizes that she has to let her friends fight for her, and it’s so good. The magic in these books is also more well-done than it was in the Lioness series. Where Alanna was literally handed her powers (“Hi Alanna! I’m the Goddess, and you’re the Chosen One. Here, have a magic sword, a magic necklace, and a magic cat.”), Daine has to learn to use her powers and trust them. The actual mechanics of magic are also explored in more detail, and Tamora Pierce seems to have a better handle on how the magic in her books actually works.
Better villains, better storytelling, great new characters, a nice revisit with old ones…so far, the Immortals series is off to a great start.
Verdict: four out of five stars