Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Now, Let's See You Dance

Magic Steps
~Magic Steps~
The Circle Opens
Book 1
By Tamora Pierce
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knows all about unusual magic - she herself spins and weaves it like thread. But when she witnessed a boy dancing a spell, even she is confounded. To her dismay, Sandry learns that as the mage who discovered the power of the young dancer, she must be his teacher.

Before lessons can begin, however, Sandry and her uncle, Duke Vedris, get news of a mysterious murderer stalking a clan of local merchants. The killer employs the strangest magic of all: the ability to reduce essence to nothingness.

As the murders mount and the killer grows bolder, Sandry's teaching takes on a grave purpose. For it becomes clear to everyone that the killings can only be stopped by the combined workings of two people: the young teacher and her even younger student.

Three years have passed since the events of the last quartet. Briar, Daja and Tris have left with their teachers to study abroad, leaving Sandry alone to attend to the troubles in Summersea. It's pretty obvious from the get-go that Sandry has done some growing these past couple years. Not only is her magic more refined, but so is her attitude. She's still far from the snobbery of most Nobles or wealthy, but she is much more attuned to her status as a Noble and a mage, and what it affords and requires from her.

The narration here is a bit of a change as well. While Sandry shared narration with her friends in the past, it never traveled any farther than the people we knew. Magic Steps does a bit of jumping now and again between Sandry, her pupil, Pasco, and one of the villains of the story, Alzena. Personally, I might have wished a little less of the murderer and more of Pasco, giving us a bit more to lighten the mood, but it all worked alright.

I think the first time I read this I was eager to have Pasco and Sandry hook up romantically. Alas, (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying this) I was denied. Nothing big, the characters are still young, but something to keep in mind if that's what you're looking for.

This book clearly marks the transition from Middle Grade in the last series to Young Adult in this one. There is a lot of darkness, between the grisly murders taking place, the magic that enables them, and Sandry's involvement in tracking both. Going along with that, there really isn't much action or excitement in the main events, only determination and a sense of obligation. Also, this is primarily a story of entering the adult world. Talk of usefulness and employment is a steady theme, not nearly as carefree as the educating in books past. To those who have already grown attached to the characters, it may not be too hard of a transition, but newcomers may find themselves a bit unenthused if they're younger. Thus, I'm going to stick to labeling it, and the rest of the series, Young Adult.

The main complaint I have with the book is its shortness. There are a couple scenes I would have loved to see, plus I found the ending to be completely jarring. Practically the entire book is leading up to catching the murderers, and I'm sorry to say that I felt little sense of closure with just the epilogue. So much darkness, nightmares, and fear, and only a measly 7 pages of relief. I'm still feeling shaken and I finished it over an hour ago.

Overall, this is an engrossing start to a promising series. A lot darker than the last, I may recommend a couple days recovery (so long as you're not in a reading challenge). Still no language or sex in the Circle series, but here there is drug-use and a lot more blood and death, so I'd mark this as YA and above. A fantasy novel that is sure to engage crime and history enthusiasts as well, Magic Steps is a definitely a book many will enjoy.

Approximate Reading Time: 3 hours

Whisper Stories in My Ear

Read by Tamora Pierce & Full Cast Audio
(click for cast names)
Length: 7.3 Hours
Listened at 2.3x Speed

It's been a few years since we last heard from them, so it stands that some characters' voices need to be changed. Sandry, for one, has aged from 10/11 to 14. Her new voice actor is true to her past ones (I only discovered now that she changed in Briar's Book), and provides as stirring a performance as ever I could expect. Familiar voices of Lark and the Duke are joined by a large cast of new talent that I hope to hear more from in the future.

I listened to this book a bit faster than usual. I normally shoot for 1.8 or 1.9x speed, but this time I was comfortable at over 2x the normal play speed. Perhaps my copy of the recording got tweaked, or it just might be the audiobook itself that's slow. In either case, I don't think the speed makes the experience any less enjoyable.

Another great recording from Full Cast Audio. They always have me looking forward to my next experience with them.