Review of Sandry’s Book and the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce. The Circle of Magic is one of my all time favourite magic school series.
My review of Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce
The series is about four twelve-year-old children (three girls and a boy) who is taken to a temple where they study magic. While this is a magic school book series, it feels nothing like Harry Potter. The problems they help solve are much more real and dire. There are however room for them to be children as well. They do however grow into teenagers pretty quickly and they are quite mature. The books are all about friendship, owning your own agency and knowing your limits.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the series. To find things I don’t like about this series requires me to go into really nit-picky details so there is probably no reason to go there.
My review from 2014 of Circle of Magic & Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce
Earlier this week when I was putting together a list of epic fantasy books that I recommend, I had to write a little about the first book in the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce. And I found that I almost couldn’t stop writing, so I decided that I would write a longer piece on the book. Mind you it has been a year or two since I read the series. But I have re-read it multiple times over the years. It is one of my favourite fantasy series. Why, you ask?
If you follow me you have probably figured out by now that I am a Tamora Pierce fan. She has been enormously influential for me. I read Alanna when I was around 11 and it opened my eyes. It showed me that women could be as strong as men, could fight on an equal ground. It showed a woman beating the men at their own game. That is pretty powerful stuff. However as an adult I do not enjoy her very first series as much as I did as a teenager, simply because they are very much written for that age group. They are still amazing books and I do re-read them every now and then, but they are also very thin books and their universe is a bit underdeveloped.
The world of Circle of Magic
However Pierce’s second universe, the Emelan universe, is a much more fleshed out and worldcrafted universe. It has a complex system of magic, multiple interlocking cultures with distinct feels, costumes, tabus and traditions. The main country in the book series is a country ruled by a duke locked in between stronger neighbours.
On the surface it feels like you regular old medieval fantasy world, but it is quickly clear that there are a lot of differences. For one thing the gender roles are less rigid especially among the magic-users. A very modern attitude towards sexuality. The religion has nothing to do with christianity but is pluralistic with a non-celibate religious order. The technology level is more like the renaissance (without guns). There are probably a multitude of other smaller differences but those are the ones that springs to mind. Because Emelan exist in a non-monocultural world it makes it so much more interesting. That brings to the next part of the book series that i really enjoy: The protagonists.
There are 4 protagonists in the series, each is the point of view character of one of the four books. The same pattern is true in the second series in the world. The protagonists are diverse bunch on a multitude of variances. They are not all straight, they are from different cultures, they have different skin tones, they are from different economic background – one is a noblewoman and one is an ex-street criminal. 3 are female and only 1 is male (it is normally the other way around).
They all get to become competent and confident individuals as the series moves along. Their differences are never a source of conflict within the group for more than five minutes of their live. Another wonderful thing about our main cast is that they are friends, not lovers or love interest, but just plain friends. They see them self as sisters and brothers, though they didn’t start living under the same roof til they were in their pre-teens. That is so wonderfully liberating. There is zero sexual tension within the group. Thank you Pierce for that! (stop running out of that tangent, get back on track, take a deep breath… there that’s good)
Along with the main cast, we have a great supporting cast of the children’s teachers who are two men and two women (who are a couple by the way). And they are amazing teachers and amazing people. They are by no means perfect people but they are wonderful people.
The children all lost their parents somehow and are found and brought to the temple where they are to learn to develop and control their magical talents. That may sound like Harry Potter, but it really does not feel anything like Harry Potter. They can all use magic though craft of one sort or another. One is a smith, one a gardener, one a tailor and one a weather worker.
This series is so much about friendship and about standing together against a world that don’t understand you or are afraid of you etc. The book is also about accepting responsibility and solving the problems that gets thrown your way. But at the same time it acknowledge the fact that you need to know your limits and take care of your body.
The Circle of Magic series has so many wonderful themes that it would take too long to list them all. But there is meat on the bones. And the bones are solid bones of action, magic and humor. In the later books all the protagonists gets to have love interests of their own. They grow into their sexuality in a way that feels totally natural and fluid. The problems they get to help solve are very real and adult problems such as raids on the city, plague, famine. They don’t get to go though those things without being touch by them. They get physical and emotional scars from the things that happens to them. Their identity gets shaped and reshaped by the things that happens to them and by the things they do. They get to have tons of character development and their relationships changes, grows, gets complicated and evolve.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the Circle of Magic series. To find things I don’t like about this series requires me to go into really nit-picky details so there is probably no reason to go there.
Btw all the covers are crap, but sadly the cover for Sandry’s book is the worst one. The one I feature here is the least bad. That is not saying much though.
The stats: Sandry’s Book
Published: 1997 by Scholastic Press
Length: 252 pages
Author: Female, white, USA
This review was originally posted: February 15, 2014. Updated and edited July 1, 2023