Niko Goldeye. His character is arrogant and condescending, fine, that's not the problem. He spends the first two books yelling (often literally) at the four children for not knowing things he ever told them. At one point he even says to Tris "I know I haven't had time to give you a proper background education but…" and goes on to scold her for her ignorance anyway! My problem is, why is this guy a teacher? He's terrible with students, unless you want to tell me that the enlightened and peaceful temple dedicates think that harassing and shaming children without giving them a chance to learn in the first place is a good teaching method. So the temple has a mage who's really good at finding things and seeing things and really bad at teaching — why don't they just have him do his other stuff full time? Who really thought this guy should be left in charge of brand-new know-nothing students, all of whom have psychological problems to begin with?
Well, he's not a career teacher, he's just the mage who found them and so he has a responsibility to them (like each of the four do later on with their students). He places the other three with their own teachers, so it's not like he's forcing himself on them. He and Tris get on quite well, and there aren't a lot of people for whom you can say that about Tris. And it's not up to the temple — he's not a dedicate, he doesn't even work for them, he just associates with them. And… beyond that I guess I don't really know what you're talking about. Pretty much everyone in the books is a little unjustifiably bitchy and self-aggrandizing, it's not just Niko.
That's really my point, though. He's not a career teacher. He should have found a teacher for them. There was nothing in the first quartet about the "mage who finds them" rule, so that seems like more of a retcon to apply the rule to Niko. And really Niko didn't find Tris. He didn't even want to escort her up to Winding Circle until she threw her temper tantrum. But even going with that rule, the mage who finds them is only responsible for them until they can find them a better teacher. Daja finds the twins a cook mage and a carpenter mage right off the bat, and she only teaches their meditation as a favor. Briar could have left Evvy with Stoneslicer, or with another stone mage if Stoneslicer hadn't been driving out the competition. I know Niko has character flaws, like everyone else. I prefer characters who are arrogant, vain and self-absorbed to Mary Sues. That's not my problem. My problem is, he's a bad teacher. He yells at them for lessons they had no opportunity to learn, over and over again. They're ten year old children and every one of them has severe psychological problems. He needed to be nurturing and encouraging them, like Rosethorn and Frostpine did, while instead he yells at them. While technically he places the other three with other teachers, he still teaches them meditation and gives them orders about magic. He does get better by the third book, but by then I was too mad at him for treating ignorant ten-year-olds like lazy adults.
None of the mages we ever encounter in the books are career teachers. The way the system works, one of the duties that comes with being an accredited mage is that you have to teach, or find a teacher for, anyone you discover. The only "school" of magic we even know of is Lightsbridge, and that's a university for older students of academic magic. Everyone else is on their own. Niko did discover Tris; he scryed that she was a mage just like the other three and he kept her because they had their scrying magic in common and because they got along. She likes him. And I can't remember all these supposed occasions of him "yelling" at the kids for not knowing things or treating them worse than the other teachers. I really think you're exaggerating.
I of course am out of town right now and don't have my books on hand, but I remember him scolding the children on multiple occasions in the first two books. One specific occasion I do remember is when he takes Sandry's lumpy thread away from her saying that she shouldn't have been playing around with forces too powerful for her — except that it had been the only way to save their lives. Niko did not discover Tris. Her family dropped her off at the temple because they thought she was possessed and they didn't want her anymore. Tris was waiting out in the hallway and she overheard the headmistress of whatever school she was at asking Niko to escort her up to Winding Circle. Niko refused, saying he didn't need the hassle. Tris got upset, feeling rejected yet again, and she caused lightning to strike a tree ten feet outside the building. Niko stuck his head out into the hallway and then told the headmistress he changed his mind, he'd be honored to escort Tris there. He was not the first person to see her practice magic, since she'd been bounced around from school to school trying to diagnose her, and she was already on her way to Winding Circle at the time. If she hadn't gotten upset at right that moment, the next mage along would have brought her up to WC. And again, the "he who finds them teaches them" rule is a retcon. It wasn't introduced as a motivation until the sequel series. I will admit that he gets along better with Tris than the other three, but he's still terrible with children.
I think people here are overlooking the fact that the children are ambient mages; their magic is different than most other mages'. Niko was the first one to discern that Tris' had magic, and ambient at that, and ambient weather mages do not hang around on trees. Even at Winding Circle there were no one with her branch of magic so he had to teach her. Also, he realized her power was enormous and wanted to keep an eye on her. He really had little choice in the matter. He put his otherwise wandering life on hold just to teach her control.
Also, I'd like to point out: His. Teaching. Works. I have had a number of teachers who were quite harsh, quite willing to inform me in no uncertain terms that I was doing it wrong, and they taught me a great deal very fast and effectively. And all the kids like him, if I recall.
There are two things I'd like to throw in the mix here: first, I got the distinct impression, reading the books, that the in-universe concept of childhood/adulthood is at least a bit different than ours, and that those ten-year-olds would be expected to be a lot more responsible than we'd expect them to be. Second, just because the "he who finds, teaches" rule wasn't explicitly stated in the first tetralogy doesn't mean that the rule wasn't already part of the world - in fact, a rule like that is pretty much implied from the get-go, when the four are settling in. And also, Niko does remark that he's never had students that young, in Daja's Book, and so he's muddling along as well. But I'd also like to add that teaching is not exclusively about being sweet and nice and encouraging-only to students. Sometimes, you need to set rules, even harsh ones. Sometimes, you need to scold, so students really get that something is wrong. That is especially true when teaching potentially dangerous things - many a craft teacher of mine has yelled at me, with damn good reason, for doing potentially life-and-limb-threatening things with a tool. I imagine that goes doubly for magic.
Another thing to note—Tris is hard to handle, and has lots of issues. One of her major issues is being rejected or left behind. If Niko took her to the temple and then proceeded to ignore her, she would probably see it as effectively 'abandoning' her again. And he's one of the few people who can handle her prickly attitude well, earn her respect, have enough in common with her (finicky-ness, bookwormy-ness, smart-ness), etc. to actually for the close bond of teacher/student that is shown to be important in the books. Also, Tris can scry the wind, and Niko scries the future…both types of magic which are incredibly difficult and prone to driving the mage insane, so he's really the only one capable of being a true teacher to her.
I saw it as more like warning them while blaming himself for not telling them. They were playing with potentially lethal forces, and it was his fault that he never really told them not to.
A few points: The four were using the string in other situations (such as contacting Daja in the second book) and it was a very powerful object. In addition, all four have potentially-lethal powers and they're all quite smart, so I have a feeling that part of his yelling at them was him being angry at them for not thinking before throwing around their magic. Being young only goes so far as an excuse, and all of them needed to be sensible, especially after the second book, when they saw the amount of damage they could cause.
Aside from all the very good points that have been made, the kids accidentally get themselves into very dangerous situations. Many adults tend to overreact when a child's life is in danger out of pure fear. Niko obviously cares a lot for his young students, and his worry for their safety is expressed as anger.
That's pretty much my take on it as well. Niko is so hard on the kids because they legitimately need it; Tris's magic is of a type that actually will kill her or someone else if she doesn't get it under control in a hurry, and I'm not sure even we the reader really have context of how powerful the thread-circle is. It seems to exponentially boost all four of their powers; each one has the skills and power reserves of four mages to apply to anything they do. Considering ambient magic in this world has a clear tendency to run amok when turned loose, Niko's right to be afraid of the damned thing; being able to spelljack Rosethorn's plant-growth magic, when none of them should have been able to even use it in the first place without guidance, demonstrates how dangerous the talisman really is. It's like handing four kids the keys to a military armory halfway through the weapon safety lessons.
Okay, I know that this is actually set AFTER Circle of Magic, but in Melting Stones, Evvy is trying to do some magic to save lives and she gets distracted by a kid. She yells at the kid, does her magic, and gets back to town to find that the kid she yelled at RAN OFF to get something to make up for a rock of Evvy's that she and a brother broke off… AND ROSETHORN BLAMES HER! Kind of a "What the Hell, Teacher?" moment, but what really bugs me is Rosethorn saying Evvy took her first step towards being a destroyer, but when would Evvy have learned better manners? She's was sold into slavery as a child, raised herself before Briar found her, got involved in a war, was tortured, her pet cats were killed, and so much psychological damage done that she attacked an initiate who was trying to wake her earlier in the book! A few months as Discipline Cottage DOES NOT undo the damage Evvy had done to her. And it's not as if Rosethorn is the best teacher to teach her how to be compassionate and gentle to children. Hell, I seem to recall Rosethorn using similar arguments on Briar about being a busy mage when he was a student mage. I'll admit, Rosethorn does say, "Perhaps that was hard," for Rosethorn to call Evvy a destroyer, but Evvy has stated to identify herself more with rocks than humans because rocks never tortured her willfully, or killed her cats just to get information. That whole part of the book Just Bugs Me, I guess.
That bugged me too. In addition to all that, Evvy wasn't responsible for babysitting the girl, she was trying to work on something that could save the entire island from being blown up, and she's just a child herself. She doesn't have any practice expressing her frustration politely. It's especially when contrasted with Rosethorn's attitude on Evvy's attacking the initiate at the beginning of the book. There, Rosethorn understood that Evvy had been damaged and her reactions would be impaired. But suddenly when it's a child that's bugging her, the damage isn't that bad and she should have normal reactions?
Evvy getting blamed when she wasn't responsible for keeping an eye on the kid bugs me, too. It was made pretty clear that she was going to have more important things to do than help ride herd on the, uh, herd of kids that the guy had collected. As mentioned, she was trying to save the whole island. Sure, she said the words that motivated the kid to run off - but this was a kid whom they had to keep an eye on anyways, because they suspected that she would try to run off to go find some toy that had gotten left behind. So, where was the girl who was riding herd when the kid ran off?
Rosethorn doesn't just say that she was hard, she also admits that it's not actually Evvy's fault. I believe the actual phrasing she uses is: "When you were meant to be learning how to treat other people, you were too busy trying to survive." Rosethorn's speech there is mostly out of disappointment, not just with Evvy but with herself and her own inability to teach Evvy how to go easy on the innocent. Also, Rosethorn didn't know Evvy's plans. All Rosethorn knows is what Nory told her, which would be colored by the fact that Nory isn't exactly Evvy's biggest fan, and nobody except Evvy and Luvo knew what Evvy was doing when she scared Meryem off. To this tropers mind, Rosethorn's reaction made perfect sense, especially when you compare it to what she was saying the whole book.
To me, it's more that Evvy was deliberately cruel to Meryem, telling her that she wasn't her friend to get her to leave. Not to mention, earlier in the book, after warning the town about the impending volcano, Evvy wanted her, Luvo, Rosethorn and Myrrhtide to leave instead of staying to help, saying that they had no reason to help any more than warning them. I think Rosethorn was trying to use it to get Evvy to be more kind to people; she didn't have to be so cruel to Meryem, and she wanted Evvy to see that being mean to people can have really dire consequences, because Meryem could have easily died.
At the end of "The Will of the Empress", I get that Sandry owning land in Namorn is dangerous for her and all her friends. I get that it's better for all concerned that the land passes to her responsible cousin who cares for the land. But I don't get why Sandry is seen as stubborn and selfish for wanting to hold on to that land. The way that Pierce writes this whole bit, it's as if the demand is very unreasonable, as if Sandry is being childish and petty. That's her family's land. I'm one of those people who, though I've never seen my "ancestral homelands," I nevertheless feel deeply attached towards them. I was entirely sympathetic with Sandry for wanting to hold on to her land, which her parents left her, it's hers by right, and she feels deeply protective towards it. The ending, where she's basically peer pressured into giving it up, left a sour taste in my mouth, even though I understand it was definitely for the best.
Yeah, I get that. The way I read it, which could be colored by my own biases, the author (the text, the narrator, the omniscient Right in the universe) was more sympathetic to Sandry at first, when it was her link to her parents and her family. But after she had been there a while and had it shown to her that her reluctance was hurting real people and screwing up their micro-society, then the author was less sympathetic because now Sandry knew better. Still, I totally get what you're saying. It's not wrong to want to keep something that's yours.
Part of the problem is that the "something" in this case is essentially people's lives. Everyone who lives there is screwed without a ruler in residence. She didn't inherit a thing, she inherited a job and she doesn't want to do it but she also doesn't want to give it to someone who can and actually does do it. After she learns the reality of the situation there are basically three options: 1.) Suck it up and live in Namorn and do the job as clehame 2.) Live with the fact that people's lives will be ruined and she'll eventually lose the land anyway because there is only so much money she can throw at the problem before she has to come back or the property is seized 3.) Give the job to someone willing to do it who is good at it and incidentally is also a member of the family and descended from its earlier leaders. But she keeps going with choice number 2 again and again even after she herself has fallen victim to the problem she finds most offensive (being married against her will without a liege lord to apply to for help). She's also being sort of deliberately obtuse when she tries to defend it as 'not shirking her duty' by letting the property pass out of the direct line of inheritance when her *real* duty should be to make sure that the tenants have someone to speak up for them at court — she's appalled that her mother never cared about those problems but nearly makes the same decision even after seeing the harm her mother's negligence wrought. I was sympathetic at first, disappointed after she found out about the marriage situation and the taxes, and pretty horrified after she was kidnapped and made it clear she was never planning on coming back but still wouldn't do the right thing.
I agree, but I think that it was more that she wasn't being mature about it. If she'd said 'I want to keep them, because I know I can figure out a way to keep everyone protected, and besides, they're mine and I don't want to give them up', she'd probably get more support. But IIRC, she was more like 'But they're mine! Mine, mine, mine!'
Except this isn't a case of Sandry being nostalgic for Namorn in general as an ancestral home and a link to her mothers family. This is a case of Sandry wanting her inheritance, her title, her lands, the jewels, the yearly stipend etc, but not wanting any of the bother of involving herself, as she should as Lady of the Manor, and without having to live in Namorn, as she's now too attached to the Duke, and Summersea, Winding Circle and her foster brother and sisters, who she knows are all likely to base themselves in Summersea, to go to Namorn, with or without the threats from the Empress. She doesn't read reports sent to her by Ambrose (complaining they're all just numbers, and too dry, even though she does exactly the same job for her Uncle after his heart attack), and she isn't aware of Namornese customs, rituals (eg kidnapping women so men can marry them) and what is expected of her as a Lady and landholder, and what her duties are to those living on her land, nor does she go out of her way to learn. Sandry is able and responsible for releasing those on her lands out of wedlock, if they were part of a kidnap-involved wedding, as well as petitioning the Empress on their behalf, as well as being able to negotiate taxes and other monetary demands with her (which then impact how much money there is to pay for maintenance of her lands etc). Duke Vedris himself even points out to her before she goes to Namorn that what she complains about doing for HER OWN lands, she does for him, and effectively rules an entire country while the Duke is recovering from a bad heart attack. This was understandable when her parents die, as she's only 10 years old, has suffered a major trauma, and then has to learn to control her magic. But this is a land where children take more responsibility earlier, so it's not unconciveable that once she earned her medal aged 14, she could have gone to Namorn for a couple of years to learn her duty and familiarize herself with her lands until she was of an age to take up running it herself. But she was stubborn about not wanting to go, because she'd just be married off.
It always bugged me in "The Will of the Empress" when suddenly, everyone became gay overnight. I mean, I get that there had always been some subtext and I guess Pierce decided that her audience could finally handle it, but I was irked. I think it could have been handled with a lot more finesse than a sentence of, "Oh yeah, by the way, Lark and Rosethorn have been going at it every night in Discipline cottage," and then everyone and their mom come out of the closet.
I had always read Lark and Rosethorn as Heterosexual Life-Partners, so the revelation that they were lovers wasn't that surprising to me. I did not read it as them "going at it every night", but more of an acknowledgment that their already openly loving relationship had happened to include sex as well. I don't remember anyone besides Daja coming out of the closet, but it's been a while. Does anyone else come out? (Frostpine, maybe… I don't remember.)
Now I do have problems with how Ms. Pierce handled it. Daja is labeled as a lesbian, since she says something like, "I've always known I was weird for not liking boys." But if you read "Cold Fire", not only does she pretty obviously have a crush on the arsonist firefighter, but towards the beginning she even says something about having a relationship with one of the male students. Ms. Pierce could have made her a bisexual, still made her point about Daja's doomed relationship with the womanand made the point about how bisexuals feel they're expected to choose between being straight and gay (since Daja clearly expressed romantic interest in men but not women, my interpretation of her is a bisexual who was subconsciously trying to pass as straight). Instead, we get an awkward orientation binary where a straight women flips immediately to gay with no acknowledgment of either the transition or any other possible options.
She didn't have a crush on him. A girl can think a man is heroic without having a crush on him.
It also bothers me that her new quadrology ("The Circle Reforged") is planned to have a book each from Sandry ("The Will of the Empress"), Evvy ("Melting Stones"), Briar (unreleased title about his adventures in Yanjing) and Tris (unreleased title about her adventures in Lightbridge). The only LGBT character is the only one of the original friends who is getting left out. So, coming out of the closet means you get dropped in favor of this year's model? Nice, real nice. Points to Ms. Pierce for trying but I really wish she'd had a friend or a beta reader to sit her down and say, "Honey, think about you're implying here."
It's not a quadrology. "The Circle Reforged" was the originally planned title of "The Will of the Empress", which is an everyone book, not a Sandry book.
I think it would have made more sense to make Tris or Sandry the lesbian. Tris has never expressed interest in anyone (that I can remember) and Sandry's marital prospects have mostly/always been discussed in terms of her noble duty. Either of them could be read as gay while Daja, having had romantic and sexual thoughts about men, is either bisexual or a very confused lesbian (which needs to be addressed and explained in the text). I vaguely recall that Ms. Pierce said something about how, meta-textually, she couldn't make Briar gay because his PTSD behavior of sleeping around would imply something negative about gay men. I just wish she would have thought about what it implies to have a woman flip from straight to gay. Bonus points, this would have solved the problem of leaving the LGBT character out, since now either lesbian!Tris or lesbian!Sandry would have their own story.
Is Tris supposed to be asexual? She's had two crushes before, but then someone (I think Briar) makes a comment about how "they'd have to be all dressed in rain and lightening for her to notice them."
Tris is stated to by straight; she's had crushes and attractions to guys before (according to WotE). The impression I got was that she had such terrible self-esteem after some hard (those guys were total dicks to her) rejections, and just sort-of gave up. Which wouldn't be out of character.
First, re: Daja liking boys. Daja never says she's a lesbian. In fact, in the CoM world, there isn't even a word for lesbian. The word she uses is a catch-all phrase for any sexualities outside of heterosexuality - homosexuality and bisexuality. It's entirely possible she still likes boys. And she doesn't say she was weird for not liking boys, she says she was weird because romance left her cold and unaffected; having crushes and falling in love are two entirely separate things. Secondly, Daja doesn't have any more development in her story to do. She didn't end up in a war, so we don't have stories relating to said war and how it's aftermath is affecting her (Briar's "Circle Reforged" book and Evvy's "Melting Stones"), she doesn't have a powerful family trying to draw her and her family in ("Will of the Empress") and she isn't heading off to a whole new adventure (Tris's "Circle Reforged" book). In fact, it looks as if the only story that could possibly be told with regards to Daja is if she and Rizu hooked up, and Pierce doesn't write straight romance. It's not so much Unfortunate Implications as it is that the character has nowhere left to go. Finally, sexuality is a very fluid thing. This is a wiki where we have whole tropes devoted to reading homosexual subtext between characters/people, as well as tropes talking about being attracted to specific members of your own gender; more than any other wiki out there, we should know how fluid something like that can be.
I will have to re-read the book; I definitely came away with the impression that the word she used meant gay. If it means LGBTQI etc. then that would settle my concerns about No Bisexuals. But there are still Unfortunate Implications in that the character who has no adventures left is the one who just came out of the closet (and I saw an interview somewhere discussing how she decided to make one of them gay first and then choose which, though of course I have lost the link). You point out that Tris is starting new adventures; why can Daja not go to Lightsbridge or to any other place she wants? Instead it feels as though coming out of the closet is what means no more stories about you. And I'm very aware that sexuality is fluid, my concern with the text is that this fluidity did not communicate itself to me. As I stated above, I did not read Daja's sexuality as fluid, I thought it was too abrupt and that was not realistic. In other words, I said her sexuality should be smoothly fluid and wasn't.
Why can Daja not go to "Lightsbridge or any other place" now? I think that a large part of it is that she doesn't need to - Daja is by far the most adult of the four at this point, the groundwork of which was in place long before she was the surprise lesbian. She has skills that are immediately applicable pretty much anywhere she cares to settle down, a valuable resource that is unique to her which means she'll never have to worry about her income, and the temperament to take advantage of those skills and that resource - remember, a big part of the reason that Tris is going to Lightsbridge is that at this point she doesn't think she has any way to support herself that won't lead immediately to hurting herself or others. Daja's social and political obstacles were pretty much resolved way back in "Daja's Book" - one of the main things that happened in "Will of the Empress" was getting Sandry's political baggage resolved so that she could go on with her life. Daja's early upbringing, even if it didn't encourage her interest in smithing, did at least instill in her a strong work ethic and understanding of commerce, which she is easily able to apply - Briar is still working out what of his early training does and doesn't apply to a law-abiding lifestyle, even without the added baggage of his experiences in the war. Daja is ready to move on with her life in ways that the others are not. This would have been the case no matter her sexuality.
There are always adventures in this world. There have been pirates, forest fires, murders and arsons. They have had adventures staying at home, on the road and in foreign lands. They've picked up new students in their travels and in their home city. There is no literary reason why Daja would suddenly stop having adventures now. The difference is that the author is choosing not to show those adventures. Instead of including her as was done in "Circle of Magic" and "The Circle Opens", Daja's story has been replaced with Evvy's story. That's the only change. And there are distinct Unfortunate Implications in that change.
There are, if you choose to look at it that way. The whole point of a well-written book, though, is to show the characters growing and changing and becoming more themselves, if you get my drift. I agree with the troper arguing for Daja having reached the apex of her character development by the end of "Will of the Empress". Pierce could do more with her, I'm sure; there are always more plots, you can pull those out of thin air. But how would they develop Daja? Either Daja continues to grow in ways that the book demands but Pierce (and the audience) didn't particularly want or intend, or the book itself is boring and padded because there can be little character work done. Personally, I believe any subsequent book starring Daja would just be a Jump the Shark moment for the series as a whole. And it's a bit sad that Unfortunate Implications are suddenly being read into something which otherwise wouldn't draw any attention whatsoever.
I don't think Daja is at a dead end. The most likely 'next stage' of Daja would be getting over Rizu completely and finding her Second Love and working out with her siblings how to incorporate that person into her life in a way that satisfies everyone and leaves no one out. And TP hasn't 'replaced' Daja's story with anything. She's planned to do a whole series of stories on the students, including Keth, the Bancanors and Pascoe. Tris is getting a Lightsbridge book (eventually, maybe), and Briar and Evvy are getting a backstory type books, but neither Sandry nor Daja so far have a book planned. The most likely reason for this is that Tammy simply hasn't thought of the perfect book for them.
I just reread "Will of the Empress" the other day, and the word used to describe Daja is explained in the text as the Tradertalk word for "a woman who loved other women" (page 359), and the glossary at the back of the book explicitly translates it as 'lesbian'.
That doesn't mean she can't crush on guys. Having a crush can just mean you find the person in question attractive. I've had crushes on numerous fictional males but never even considered daydreaming about dating them and have had a few scattered crushes on female characters despite being completely straight. It's an individual thing so Daja could simply be a person who finds some males attractive but only is romantically compatible with females.
Daja could be bi. It's entirely possible that Tradertalk has no word for 'bisexual', so Daja and Briar just used the most appropriate word for the situation. She mentioned that she hadn't been drawn to any woman before meeting Rizu, so it's entirely possible that there are other women, and maybe men, out there.
Briar uses the word 'nisamohi' and then specifically differentiates it by asking if Daja likes both men and women, like Rosethorn.
Rereading the "Circle of Magic" books here with this in mind, Rosethorn and Lark's relationship takes on much more significance. It's possible to read them as Heterosexual Life-Partners, as has been suggested, but making a jump and assuming romantic love between the two is not a mental leap at all, especially reading into things like Lark's reactions in Briar's book.
I don't believe Daja actually has any boy crushes in the series. I don't recall her ever mentioning finding guys attractive or talking about that at all. The only two possible ones that come up are Briar and Ben and that's only if you wear shipping goggles. Pierce has repeatedly stated within the Circle Universe that the Circle group see each other as siblings and nothing else and Daja says out right to Frostpine that she doesn't see Ben in a romantic light. Sure, she admired him but there was never a hint that she also thought of him sexually.
In "Cold Fire" (the book with Ben), it is mentioned that Daja crushed on at least one male apprentice who apparently did something to/with her that upset Frostpine and Daja thinks about how she dislikes that so many boys like dainty women and ignore sturdily built females like her. No names are mentioned but I don't think they needed to be.
You wouldn't believe how many women realise in later life that they're lesbians, and that this realisation makes them view their relationships with men a lot differently. I always knew deep down that I liked women more than men, but never admitted it to myself until I was at university, but still "crushed" on boys during high school. You can be gay, and still be able to recognise that members of the opposite gender are handsome or good looking, and appreciate their looks without being attracted to them. Sexual Attaction is wanting to have sex with someone, there are ways to be interested and appealed by people without having sexual attraction to them. Look at asexuals, they aren't sexual attracted to people, but many still want romantic relationships, and are happy to have sex with people they are in a relationship with.
I think my big problem with "Will of the Empress" was how there was major character development which took place between the "Circle Opens" books and "Will of the Empress", completely off-camera. The time gap is to blame, but it bothers me that the four mages we see in "Will of the Empress" are significantly different from the four we saw in "The Circle Opens". Briar was the biggest casualty of this; Daja's trust issues and Tris's defensiveness about her magic both stem at least partially from "Cold Fire" and "Shatterglass", while the entire Yanjing war was pretty much completely off-camera. The severing of their bonds was also a bit hard to swallow, particularly from Sandry and Tris. Briar had the excuse of trying to keep his flashbacks to himself, and Daja her guilt of having allowed something they made together be used for murder, but Sandry? She was honestly trying not to kill the assassins and was left with no choice, and the four have killed people together before. And Tris just came off as having allowed her temper to run away with her again.
As far as your point towards Sandry: Just because she was justified doesn't mean it didn't leave scars. That entire plot was Nightmare Fuel at its finest: A type of magic no one has ever seen before that sucks the life out of everything it touches. To stop it, she's forced to kill an 11-year-old boy who's more victim than villain because her magic is the only thing that can effect it. On top of all that, she's basically running her uncle's kingdom for him so that the stress won't kill him and has been doing so since, IIRC the ripe old age of 14. During all of this, her foster siblings are off seeing the world and having grand adventures. If that's not enough to breed a little resentment, I don't know what is. Then with Tris, she's been rejected her entire life. She finds a family and a teacher she can trust and they go off traveling, only to have quite a few seasoned mages she meets accuse her of being conceited/a bitch because she not only won the magic power jackpot but also managed to master a rare form of scrying along with earning her mage certification at a young age. Her pulling away from her foster siblings was a (boneheaded) preemptive strike to keep them from hurting her.
Tris has amazing power with unparalled range (can affect most of the earth's power, lightening, rain, rain clouds, the earth itself, rock, wind, etc rather than just one), can hear and see things on the wind as well (which is rare, and usually dismissed as madness), gets scorn of older mages for being born with that power, and being able to manage it and live (only 1 in 10 mimanders who specialise in wind live to be journeymen!), but feels utterly useless because she refuses to use her power to mess with the natural weather patterns, or to be a war mage and kill people. It doesn't leave her with much choice in how to earn a living, besides going around and predicting weather for people, or undoing cock ups by other mages. Especially compared to Sandry, who is wealthy from being a noble, and Daja and Briar who can use their magic to make/grow goods to sell to people, and remember her family drummed into her head that she was useless if she couldn't make money for the family (she says her family would have accepted her weirdness if she had had magic as magic = money, instead she gets passed from family member to family member and used as child labour before being thrown to the temples), and it adds up to one huge complex.
For the record, the Yanjing war has now been brought into the spotlight, in "Battle Magic".
Related to the above points about Evvy and Meryem… Nory and Evvy get along like oil and water, but where does Nory get off saying that Evvy owes them her work at the end? Okay, ash got all over the place and finding food is tough, but if not for Evvy's actions, there would be no island left at all. Evvy just saved everyone's homes, if not their lives, and if Nory hadn't lost control of Meryem in the first place, she wouldn't have had to go back to the island. It's not just Nory being a Jerk Ass; we're apparently supposed to think she's justified in chewing Evvy out, because Evvy goes along with it. And as another issue, did the rules of magic change? In the very first book, Tris turned into wet spaghetti for a week after fiddling with the tides in a very small area and she's told that she was lucky to survive at all. When mages in another temple try to divert an earthquake, every single one of them dies. It's repeatedly stated that trying to fuck around with massive natural forces will get you killed, but Evvy completely deactivates a Vesuvius-like volcano by luring the contents of the magma chamber several miles out to sea? Granted, she had Luvo's help, but she ought to be acknowledged as a great mage of the era or something. I'm pretty sure in any of the previous books, all the teacher characters would have told her to not even consider doing it.
In regards to the first point, it's true that Nory did lose control of Meryem, but everything was going fine until Evvy told Meryem to get lost. Nory went after Meryem and Jayat went after Nory, so it's hard not to see why she owes them. And yes, what Evvy did is very much great mage territory, but there's no one else around to know what happened, and she did have the help of Luvo and two islands. (Also, the mages in Wave Circle Temple didn't try to divert the earthquake, they tried to store it in a crystal and the earthquake bounced around in its prison and gained so much power it burst free and destroyed everything. Evvy tried something similar and got the same results, but by the end, she was trying to move the volcano spirits, not store them in anything.)
But surely Evvy deserves a "thank you" for what she did. Even if Nory hadn't lost control of Meryem and they'd evacuated safely, Evvy still saved their home from being destroyed or otherwise rendered uninhabitable. "You made us stay on our ash-covered property" is rather outweighed by "you made sure our property would still exist and we can use it." Granted, it would probably have been a grudging and irritable thank-you since Nory is a bit of a Jerk Ass and was never corrected on her initial impression of Evvy as a Myrrhtide Jr. who's never once dealt with hardship, but it would have been better than Nory immediately berating her like she was the one who woke up the volcano in the first place and Evvy meekly accepting it as fair and just treatment. As for the magic thing, I think that's a separate Headscratcher. (I could be wrong on some of the details, granted, since I don't have the book in front of me.)
Oh, Evvy certainly does deserve a thank you, especially since she managed to save the island even when everyone else thought it was done for. But keep in mind, Evvy and Nory pretty much instantly got off on the wrong foot, and given that Evvy was the reason that Nory and co all stayed behind, Nory probably wouldn't be inclined to be anything resembling civil to her. (By the way, Jory was the cook-mage student Daja discovered in "Cold Fire". You mean Nory.)
How much of nature is self-aware? We've had timid thread fibers and Briar's shakkan from the start, which at least seems to be dog-level smart, and a general sense that most inanimate things have living qualities that ambient mages can sense, like Evvy's happy rocks and Tris's curious breezes. But how far does it extend? In "Sandry's Book", Tris nearly kills herself trying to stop the tides in a very limited area, but by "Melting Stones", Evvy is able to render a Vesuvius-like volcano extinct through cajoling and intimidation. She's also harassed by the ocean, which actively wants to kill her. So could Tris have potentially asked the ocean to stop moving on that beach; could Daja and the others have requested the firestorm to leave the caravan alone in her book? (No guarantees that they would have said yes, of course.) And how ethical is it to use and modify inanimate objects? Evvy got quite shirty over a granite post being neglected. What does Rosethorn think of logging?
There's a fan theory that Evvy is actually part elemental, like what Tris was suggested to be in Sandry's book, not an ambient mage. Or that she gets her ambient magic from being part elemental. Hence how she can talk to "rock spirits", as her element can connect to theirs. This explains Luvo connecting with her (he's an natural elemental, being the heart of a mountain and can sense the elemental inside her), and being able to talk to the spirits of the volcano, as they're magma, and so melted rock elementals. Therefore she's not using her magic to travel around the volcano and communicating with the magma spirits, when she meditates, she's connecting with her inner elemental and that's connecting with the other elementals. That's why it's not as tiring, as she's not using her magic the way Tris and co do, and why she interacts with things like they're alive, whereas they just get feelings from what they connect to via their magic, so Sandry can feel the thread being excited, Briar excites the plants into wanting to throw out new buds, and can feel basic emotions, but they don't actually talk to them like Evvy does to Luvo and the magma spirits. She can also talk to the sea, which can be argued as her talking to a sea elemental.
Luvo also said once that she's not completely human. Evvy took this to be a reference to her ambient stone magic, but Luvo could well have meant that she's part elemental.
I know there's no real "answer" to this, other than "humans made the decisions, and humans can be stupid," but the treatment of the four children regarding their mage license always irked me. They're basically told "We don't trust you to wear your medals in public in case you get too uppity, but if you refuse to take on the teaching duties that come with a license, we will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Even though you're only teenagers, we've never mentioned this little proviso before, and we've never given you any guidance with regard to teaching. Still, don't you dare go flashing those medals around!" They get all of the responsibilities and very few of the rights…or even the training. Teaching is a skill, quite separate from magic — and, like anything else, being proficient in your chosen field is no guarantee of being a decent teacher. I think most people agree that there are holistic and trial-and-error aspects to teaching, but you don't pick it up by osmosis. Even if they're ridiculously cavalier about the four Circle mages themselves (and there certainly seems to be an element of fear / jealousy, if Nico's comments about the possibility of "binding" their magic is anything to go by), surely someone would realize that it would put prospective students in danger? Weren't they lucky that every one of the four apparently has a natural gift for teaching?
I'm not sure what you mean by "we've never mentioned this little proviso before", because the kids mention that they were told about the teaching rule when they got their medallions, they just didn't pay it much mind at the time.
Actually, there's a wee bit of a continuity error. At least one of the four—can't recall which—was told by his/her teacher "oh, that's right, we never mentioned that, did we?" The others indicate that they just never thought about the rule much.