Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Healing in the Vine

Briar's Book
~Briar's Book~
Circle of Magic
Book 4
By Tamora Pierce
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Former "street rat" Briar leads a comfortable life at Winding Circle Temple, learning plant magic from Rosethorn. But street kids are still his friends, and when one of them gets sick, she turns to Briar for help. When her disease proves beyond even Rosethorn's power, Briar realizes that all of Summersea is in danger.

As the mysterious illness spreads, Sandry, Daja, and Tris join Briar and their teachers to fight the epidemic. But just as the situation improves, the unthinkable happens.

Will Briar be able to save what he loves the most?

A fascinating look at disease and the steps taken towards finding a cure, Briar's Book serves as a staggering reminder of the mortality of even the strongest among us. Even being the longest story of the quartet, it's amazing how much is packed in. Besides plague and cure-working, there's quarantine, reflections on poverty, man-made diseases, and even a small bit on death and the afterlife.

By now we should know that when magic is thrown into the mix, nothing gets any easier. Surprisingly (to me), most of the book centers around treatment and cure-seeking without magic entirely. It's incredible to think how much of this is done in the real world, testing, testing, and re-testing results until some semblance of a cure is discovered, then hoping it will work outside the lab.

Even though this book is most often found in the Middle Grade section, the content is dark enough that it may better fit an older audience. I really hate making statements like that—each reader is unique in their maturity and ability to handle subjects like death and disease. I mean, I'm in my 20's and I found The Hunger Games series to be too intense for me. So I'll just leave it at this: this book contains depictions of the slums, poverty, disease, death, and a possible afterlife. It does not contain adult language, sex, romance, or overly graphic descriptions of disease/death. Having said that, I think this book and the entire series are enjoyable to practically any age of reader.

Briar may have always been the odd-man-out in the series, being the only boy among the four mages-in-training, but now he's got his own story to star in. Though he will refuse to admit it, he's just as his name suggests: Briar-like in his fondness for getting under the skin of others and his stubbornness; moss-like in his tenderness towards plants and those close to him. His softer nature has poked through in parts of the past books, but here he's shoved into a situation where his prickly nature would only harm. It really shows how far he's come since giving up his thief life...or has he?

Where most YA novels nowadays place their kids in situations isolated from adults, Tammy strives at having them work with their mentors. Not only are the adults included, but they're included in nearly everything. Both children and adults are written as completely competent, intelligent, and strong. While the youths may require instruction from adults at points, so too do the adults require information or assistance from the youths. They all play to their strengths while coming off as neither overpowered nor helpless. It's quite refreshing, actually.

Overall, Briar's Book is a fascinating and emotional finish to an incredible series. Fantasy lovers, those interested in medicine, strong-character enthusiasts, YA readers, and Pierce stalkers fans can all find something to enjoy in this book. If you've waited this long to pick up these books I don't know what more I can say to convince you to do so. So...what are you waiting for?!

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours

Whisper Stories in My Ear

Read by Tamora Pierce, Bruce Coville & Full Cast Audio
(click for cast names)
Length: 6.5 Hours
Listened at 1.9x Speed

I can't emphasize enough how amazing it is to hear the book read by the author herself. Not only does Tamora Pierce know her creation better than anyone else, but she's also an excellent reader. Her voice is clear and emotive, softening at the tender moments and becoming crisp at the cheerful ones. I don't know if I can ever listen to someone else narrate these books!

Music was utilized much more here than in the previous books. The breaks and chapters each had longer interludes, as well as one instance of music within a dream-sequence. It was slightly annoying during the breaks because I was eager to move on to the next part, but I can't hold it against the book as a whole.

I was very surprised to find out Briar's voice actor had changed once again. I even listened specifically to see if I could spot a difference, and I couldn't! Congrats to FCA for finding such a spot-on replacement. The talents of the full cast was enough to have me tear up once or twice. Incredible from beginning to end, don't you dare pass up a chance to experience Briar's Book through the audiobook.