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Literature: Circle of Magic

A series of young adult fantasy novels by Tamora Pierce which follows the Four-Temperament Ensemble of Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar as they train to become mages in the independent duchy of Emelan.

Circle of Magic follows four children who are all outcasts with different elemental powers as they train at a magical academy and learn about their abilities, while various disasters lead them to consider each other as family.
  • Sandry's Book, known elsewhere as The Magic in the Weaving, where the four misfits are brought together and unite against bullies, tyrannical gardeners, and their own tempers. When they're trapped in an earthquake, Sandry weaves their magic together, increasing their power exponentially, though little do they know just how much…
  • Tris's Book, known elsewhere as The Power in the Storm, when pirates threaten the bay and the students' teachers begin to realize exactly what kind of bond has formed between the four.
  • Daja's Book, known elsewhere as The Fire in the Forging, in which Daja has to acknowledge her lost Trader heritage, and the boundaries between the magic of the four are re-established, though they still meld.
  • Briar's Book, known elsewhere as The Healing in the Vine, in which a plague breaks out in the city, and all four must bring their talents to bear to help the mages find the source - and prevent tragedy from striking in their midst.

The Circle Opens describes their journeys into the outside world as they find apprentices of their own to train in their arts.
  • Magic Steps, in which Sandry takes on a student with dancing magic, who fears he'll never fit into his police (or "harrier") family, especially when assassins stalk the streets under cloak of "unmagic"…
  • Street Magic, where Briar gets involved in the gang wars that begin to center around his reluctant pupil, a headstrong (former) slave girl with ambient stone magic.
  • Cold Fire, in which Daja's discovery of mage twins (one a woodworker, the other a cook) takes second place to her trying to hunt down a deadly arsonist with a grudge.
  • Shatterglass, where Tris, always the prickly one, has to teach a glass-and-lightning magic user in order to try and track down a serial killer.

Standalone books continue the story with the original four, but also their students and teachers.
  • Will of the Empress reunites the foursome as they enter adulthood and have to stay ahead of the titular Empress's schemes while sorting out their interpersonal issues. This book was originally going to be titled The Circle Reforged, because it focuses on the protagonists re-establishing and transforming their old bond.
  • Melting Stones follows the story of Evvy, Briar's student in Street Magic, as she and Rosethorn investigate the mysterious death of plants in the Battle Islands, concurrent with Will of the Empress. It was first released as a full cast audio book before being adapted into a novel. Unlike the other Circle books, which are told in third person, this one is narrated by Evvy in first person.
  • Battle Magic tells the story of what happened to Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn in Gyongxe, events that color the previous two books.
  • An untitled fourth standalone book that will follow Tris as she enters Lightsbridge University to study academic magic.

Now has its own character page. Not to be confused with the 6-book series The Circle of Magic written by James D. Mac Donald and Debra Doyle.


Tropes found in this series include:

    open/close all folders 

    Tropes present throughout 
  • Badass: All four of the kids.
    • Briar, combining his street thief background with the vast applications of his magic, and the fact that he has at least four hidden knives on them at all times.
    • Tris keeps stored power of wind, storms, lightning, lava, tides, and earthquakes in her hair, and in Shatterglass Niko tells the cops they need to save the serial killer from her.
    • Sandry in Will of the Empress leaves a party of mages and her too-ardent suitor cocooned in what used to be their clothing, and in "Magic Steps," uses her magic to tear the killers apart. It's also mentioned she held her uncle's soul in his body while the healers did their work.
    • Daja faces down a firestorm. A literal force of nature.
  • Berserk Button: Individual ones vary, but the four main characters have one in common: if you mess with their family (adopted or blood), their teachers, or their students, prepare yourself for a whuppin'.
  • Blessed with Suck: Have the wrong kind of ambient magic with no teacher to help and this is the result. Those with magic is tied to natural forces, like Tris's weather magic, usually die from their own powers if they can't find a teacher.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : From a young age, the four Circle members are all basically decent people with a strong set of morals; even former street-thief Briar has an enormous sense of honor and fair play. Yet let them give into the temptation to vent, grumble or put off unpleasant business every once in a blue moon and the nearest authority figure will jump down their throat. This makes sense when the stakes are high, or their magic threatens to break out, but not so much when a tired child is fed up of having so much pressure on them that their temper snaps for five seconds.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Justified, for practical and ecumenical purposes, in the Living Circle temples. All initiates wear white, but earth mages wear green, air mages yellow, fire mages red, and water mages wear blue. Senior dedicates wear a black border on their robes, and the Supreme Dedicate, Moonstream, wears a gold border on her blue robes.
    • Also a part of Trader culture. They assign colors to aspects of life and then follow through completely: crimson red for mourning, blue to protect against evil (so little children frequently wear blue), and Trader mages, or mimanders, wear nothing but head-to-toe lemon yellow.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Trisana has an overabundance of magic that is set along broadly defined terms: Rain, wind, and lightning, then tides, earthquakes, and lava, all fall under the purview of weather. Add in the fact that she can see magic, use academic magic, and is the one-in-a-generation who can scry the wind; she's definitely unsettling even to magic users.
    • In the first series, especially Daja's Book, the four students' magic bleeds into one another, which results in a temporary, and definitely unwanted, version of this; Briar sprouts lightning, Daja's magic shapes iron into a living, growing vine and Sandry chars embroidery by casting her magic into it. Notably, the only one who doesn't manifest magic from one of her foster-siblings? Tris.
  • Continuity Drift: The sources of ambient magic have become more anthropomorphized as the books go on. They always have been, to some degree (Sandry "frightens" some wool during the first book), but it's usually been a case of mages being able to relate to their own source of magic. By Melting Stones, the ocean speaks directly to Evvy the stone mage and is openly malevolent towards her. Natural events are also more tractable. In the first book, Tris nearly kills herself by trying to stop the tides along a short stretch of beach; in Melting Stones (again), Evvy prevents a Vesuvius-expy volcano from erupting with a good deal of persuasion and trickery.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite Tris being frequently described as overweight, none of the book covers that feature her reflect this. At most, she just has baggy clothes.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Emelan seems to be the south of France. The other small countries surrounding them are the rest of Europe; Namorn is Russia and Tharios is Greece (with the caste system borrowed from Japan, specifically the geisha and the burakumin). Sotat and nearby countries are west/central Asia. Yanjing is China, and Gyongxe is Tibet. Traders have some elements of the Roma, but their cuisine is definitely Lebanese.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: One of the few examples where the actual existence of the gods is ambiguous. Expressly pointed out by Tris in Shatterglass as she rambles about anything that comes to mind to a twice-orphaned little girl.
    "I hope you grow to be someone incredible, to repay you for all this misery. Why is it, do you suppose, the gods are said to be favoring you when they dump awful things into your lap? Is it because the other explanation, that sorrow comes from accidents and there are no gods doing it to help you be a strong person, is just too horrible to think of? Let's stick with the gods. Let's stick with someone being in charge."
    • Partially subverted in Battle Magic: most religions have at least one temple in Gyongxe because it's said to be the closest place to Heaven, but while "small gods" like nagas, peak spiders and metal snakes do show up and help in the final battle, the named major gods of the series - the All-Seeing, Mila of the Grain, the Green Man, Trader Koma and Bookkeeper Oti and so on - don't make an appearance, and the spirit of one of the mountains worshiped by a world religion explicitly states that their myths about him being the sun goddess's husband is untrue.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Unlike the Tortall Universe, though, it doesn't specifically have Jackie Robinson Story/You Go Girl plots, instead being set in a world where gender equality is roughly where it is in present-day Real Life — maybe even a little ahead. There are countries characters visit where this isn't so, but the characters remark on this.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Not an exact fit, but…
    • Sanguine: Sandry (cheerful, people-person, prone to arrogance, heart on her sleeve)
    • Choleric: Tris (bossy and domineering, passionate, narrow-minded, has a temper)
    • Melancholic: Briar (independent nature but still likable, creative, and as of The Will of the Empress, prone to depression)
    • Phlegmatic: Daja (calm, reliable, the least likely to jump into something without thinking)
  • Friend to All Living Things: Ambient magic works like this. It's not even a requirement that a thing be living, as stone mages and thread mages will "befriend" the objects of their craft and speak as though they have feelings.
  • Green Thumb: Briar and Rosethorn's magic.
  • Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality: Weather magic. Most rulers are interested for its capacity as war magic or to favor their lands with good weather, which will mess up weather patterns everywhere else.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: All over the place. Plant magic can make deadly pricker-bushes, thread magic can incapacitate anyone who's wearing clothes, etc.…
  • Magitek: Cannonballs in this universe work by filling them with highly volatile substances, leaving a hole in the spells surrounding them, and using a fire spell to ignite them in the air. Empress mentions a room that's magically cooled and essentially functions as a freezer.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: Ambient magic, the type which all the main characters have, focuses on anything from plants to weather to weaving to dancing. None of these are particularly weak though; all the characters find ways to make their powers useful for fighting, healing, various stock magic uses, and…
  • Meaningful Rename: Initiates of the Living Circle religion take new names (generally nature-related in some way) along with their vows- for example, Rosethorn and Crane used to be Niva and Isas. Secular mages also replace their last names with ones of their own choosing when they master their powers. The four main characters have not taken "mage names" in the usual way; Briar already chose his name and sees no reason to replace it, Sandry is still close to her noble family, and Daja won't forsake her Trader heritage. Word of God says that Tris keeps the name Chandler because she wants her neglectful parents and abusive relatives to know who she is and what she's become. She wants them to always remember that if they had treated her well, she would now be an honor to their house and a source of income.
  • Medieval Stasis: Averted; technology is shown to be in visible motion. The first quartet has greenhouses as a recent innovation, and sophisticated quarantine instructions and an astonishingly scientific approach to studying and treating plagues have both been developed within the past twenty years. Said approach involves distilling the "essence" of the disease using fluid samples from infected patients. Pirates also appear to have developed gunpowder very recently. Later on in the series, there's also mention of the new land discovered across the Endless Sea.
  • Mundane Utility: The main use of ambient magic, whether it be for actual arts and crafts, medicine, scientific research (really), or any use you can think of.
  • Personality Powers: Downplayed. In Briar's Book Dedicate Lark complains about the dedicates of the Water Temple being "wishy-washy," emotional, and not too good on planning ahead. But given that a large number of mages in Winding Circle are academic mages, and therefore those dedicates chose the gods of water, it might be an inversion — being emotional and wishy-washy led to a person preferring water, rather than the other way around.
  • The Power of Blood: Blood can be added to spells to strengthen them. It's considered ethical (but risky) so long as you use your own blood.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Daja, Frostpine, Jory, Olennika, and Kethlun are all resistant to heat, as their magic involves working with it. It's implied that there are other mages who aren't so lucky. Daja's resistance only goes so far - she can handle any normal fire's heat without a second thought, but when dealing with the molten rock under the world's crust, she would melt without shields.
  • Shown Their Work: The author's notes usually have her crediting a lot of people for the knowledge about sailing, glassblowing, the psychology of serial killers, etc.
  • Single Tear: A couple characters do this; mostly it's because they're about to start crying, and they wipe it away and force themselves to get past it because it's a bad time to cry.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: There's an academy in Lightsbridge for mages to gain accreditation in particular fields. One mage describes the principle of reproducibility (although Daja dismisses it as part of his general unpleasantness). A good chunk of Briar's Book is spent in a sterile microbiology lab to study the Mystical Plague, and Shatterglass involves a conference of vision mages.
  • That Old Time Prescription: This is done in the series even to the point of actually using willow bark tea by name for headaches and fevers and the like. At one point there is an epidemic and very modern steps to quarantine the disease and develop treatments through experimentation are undertaken. Somewhat justified in that magic has allowed people in that universe to be much more knowledgeable about the mechanics of the world.
  • Theme Table: Four adopted siblings, each with a particular kind of magic, a teacher, a student, and a tendency to not fit in wherever they go.
  • True Companions: The defining relationship of the four protagonists, despite it having been created by magic and their often complaining about each other's flaws; they themselves, following the language of their world, describe their relationship as that of siblings, or, if you press, them as foster-siblings. Briar refers to the girls as his "mates", a gang slang term.
  • Un Equal Rites: Users of Academic magic and Ambient magic don't always get along very well.
  • Wrong Context Magic: Sandry isn't just a thread mage, she can control magic itself if she visualizes it as thread. This allows her to fuse together the magic of her and her four friends, turning them from powerful but ordinary mages into mages so much more powerful than anything that came before that they had to be given mage medallions at age 13 (most regular mages don't receive this rank until age 21+. Later on, she uses this ability to counter the otherwise unstoppable unmagic.
    • Unmagic itself also fits this trope. The tangible incarnation of nothingness, it can negate any amount of regular magic, negate the laws of space and time (allowing the wielder to jump from one place to another), erase physical objects from existence, and make its wielder invisible to any form of perception whatsoever.

    Circle of Magic Quartet 
  • Achievements in Ignorance: What Sandry pulled at the end of Sandry's Book to combine everyone's power. It was supposed to be impossible. It also saved their collective rears, made them all exponentially more powerful, and gave them a telepathic link. Niko Lamp Shades their tendency to do this through each book.
    "There's an advantage to instructing young mages: suggestion counts for so much with you four."
  • Badass: By the end of the quartet, all four kids have become this.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Little Bear.
  • Bilingual Backfire: When the four meet at Discipline Cottage for the first time, Briar rudely asks Daja why Traders wear red for mourning. She explains, and substitutes the rude term for a non-Trader (kaq) with something else. Then Daja looks over at Sandry, who also speaks the Trader language, and says in it, "And he is a kaq." Briar immediately says in Trader-talk, "I haven't spent my life with my fingers in my ears. And I'm not stupid."
  • The Blacksmith: Frostpine, and eventually Daja, have magic connected to everything connected to metalworking. Frostpine's other apprentice, Kirel, is also a metal mage, but only with iron.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted in Briar's Book, where Rosethorn, who is Lark's lover is the only member of Discipline Cottage to actually die from the blue pox, but not permanently, since Briar managed to leap into the afterworld and convince her to come back, with the help of his mates and a little intimidation.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Tris mentions that she has a cousin Aymery at Lightsbridge in Sandry's Book. He appears in the next book as a villain.
  • Chilly Reception: The four protagonists are all given a hard time when they arrive at Winding Circle, resulting in their removal to Discipline Cottage.
  • Circle of Friendship: In the first book, the protagonists are trapped in a cave during an earthquake, and using a circle of woven thread Sandry had on her from the beginning, they infuse it with their magics and somehow cause the cave to not crush them and the thread gives off light so they can see (Sandry is afraid of the dark). This thread goes on to have more significance later.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Any child with magic born into a Trader family is expected to undergo this type of training which results in a mage with a very limited scope of abilities but near perfect mastery of them. Niko himself describes Trader mage training as "learning to be a puff of wind…and nothing else for 10 years".
  • Debt Detester: All Traders, according to Polyam.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dedicate Crane. When he first appears in The Magic In The Weaving he looks like a frosty, arrogant, semi-competent, complete snob and a villain who is going to make the protagonists' lives a living hell. Watch him at work with people he trusts and respects in The Healing in The Vine, and with Rosethorn when she starts to get sick, and you realize there's a lot more than that going on with him. He and Rosethorn just can't ever quite manage to have a civil discussion about their different methods, that's all…
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: More importantly, natural phenomena are not a toy. Tris blacks out trying to stop the tide from coming in during the first book, the giant earthquake in the same book is caused by a group of mages trying to contain an earthquake, Yarrun dies trying to stop a firestorm in the third book, and by The Circle Opens Tris comments that even if she could change the local weather on a greater scale than trapping breezes and the odd lightning strike, it would drastically impact weather patterns across the world. Only heavily-specialized Trader mages can manipulate the weather, because only they have the lifetime of training necessary to do so and compensate for the consequences.
  • Family of Choice: Daja, Sandry, Tris, and Briar are rescued from similarly isolated backgrounds and brought to a school of magic where they immediately form a strong bond. Especially Sandry and Daja, since Sandry, responding to an act of cruel injustice by a third girl, takes an "us against the world" approach before she even knows Daja's name. The family can also be seen to include the children's teachers, especially Lark and Rosethorn who live with the children as well as teach them. By the end of their stories, the children even refer to each other as siblings.
  • Friendship Trinket: The string circle formed by Sandry's magic in the first book. Each lump in the thread represents one of them.
  • Heroic RROD: Yarrun dies when he tries to stop a forest fire that's too powerful for him. He's not a hero, but otherwise fits the trope.
  • Honor Before Reason: The trangshi custom among the Traders. It turns survivor guilt into a cultural institution by exiling Sole Survivors for being fatally unlucky.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Discipline Cottage. Not a good name if you're a misfit kid who's been kicked out of the regular dorms. However, the name actually refers to an archaic meaning of the word as instruction rather than punishment.
  • Insult to Rocks: In Tris' Book, a guard calls pirates 'dogs' and then turns to Little Bear and says, "No offense to four-legged dogs."
  • Market-Based Title: The first quartet had different title in the US and UK/Australia: The US titles were simply "X's Book" with X being one of the four leads (Sandry, Tris, Daja and Briar in that order). The UK and Australian titles were The Magic in the Weaving, The Power in the Storm, The Fire in the Forging and The Healing in the Vine (same order).
  • Mauve Shirt: Dedicate Henna from Briar's Book, a friend of Rosethorn's who worked closely with Briar while they worked in Urda's House. She assured him that she was keeping some magic to bolster herself against the blue pox, but she later dies of it anyway.
  • Mystical Plague: The plot of Briar's Book centers around the "blue pox". Although (as the name implies) it had pox-like symptoms, it isn't actually related to any of them and there's detectable magic in it. Turns out a potionmaker illegally dumped her failed weight-loss brew in the sewers, where it mixed with the diseases present there.
  • No Antagonist: The only real villains are the pirates in Tris's Book. The other three books have them face natural disasters - there are characters with antagonistic elements throughout, but they are fairly minor. Bullies don't hunt our characters down, a prideful mage doesn't give more trouble than passive-aggressive comments, Dedicate Crane is a perfectionist but for a reason, and not vindictive. Offscreen characters set off two of the disasters without any intent to do harm.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted with numerous mentions of latrines, chamber pots, and sewers that are actually filled with sewage.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • In Daja's Book Frostpine is amused at a strange accidental creation of Daja's and says his magic got away from him once, but refuses to tell us what happened. It involved spousal jealousy, not that he knew she was married. Not that he'd asked.
    • In Briar's Book, Rosethorn compares the taste of willow bark tea to horse urine. Lark informs her that horse urine tastes much nastier, but refuses to explain how she knows.
  • Not Now, Kiddo:
    • Averted for the most part. Notably Tris's ability to hear voice on the wind and see magic (which gets passed on to all four of the children). Niko even tells her to come to him if she sees or hears anything.
    • Played straight but justified late in Tris's Book. During a pirate attack, the adults spend most of a day playing damage control after a cannonball hits something nearby, and return exhausted and burned. In the mean time the kids have discovered that Tris can create lightning, but after the first few "Not now"s they don't see a good chance to mention it.
  • The One Guy: Briar. Among the four, 3:1; in the house, it's five to one. (His student in the next quartet is female, too.) Two of their other teachers are male but don't live with them. Tamora Pierce has said she chose this deliberately after learning that 3/4 of main characters in young adult fiction (or perhaps young adult fantasy fiction?) were male.
  • The Power of Friendship: A central theme here. The kids are always stronger when they unite their power. It even allows them to go into death and save Rosethorn.
  • Ragtag Bunchof Misfits: Sandry's Book is all about this. None of the kids fit into their original dorms, for various reasons, which is why they're brought to Discipline. What's more, the kids are this in their pre-Winding Circle environments. Sandry's an atypical noble, to the point where she actually defends Daja, a member of a hated group of people, when no one else wants to even sit with her. Daja herself has been cast out by her people and has a kind of magic which is taboo in Trader culture. Meanwhile, Tris's frightening and strange behaviour caused her own family to declare her cursed and send her away. Briar's probably the only one who doesn't fit this trope, as he seems to have found a place in his gang. To add a third layer, the classes of the four aren't exactly compatible: Briar lived on the streets, Sandry is incredibly wealthy, and Traders and merchants are sworn enemies. None of them would have dreamed of hanging out with each other. Except perhaps Sandry, who had to play with commoners as a child because other nobles didn't want to associate with her parents.
  • Renowned Selective Mentor: Niko, the incredibly famous vision mage, personally trains Tris the weather mage. The children later learn that Rosethorn, Lark, and Frostpine are equally renowned mages. Justified due to the law about discovering mages—they have to find a teacher in that field of magic, and if one can't be found, they must teach the student themselves (which is the case with Tris; weather mages are quite rare).
  • Sitting on the Roof: One window of Discipline opens onto the roof, which the four kids take advantage of.
  • Siblings in Crime: The two pirate leaders from Tris's Book, "Queen" Pauha and her chief mage Enahar.
  • Widow's Weeds: Traders (Family-based merchant caravans that travel on land or sea) wear red when loved ones die. Daja eventually adopts a red armband in memory of her family, instead of wearing the all-red clothes all the time. She inspires Sandry to do the same with her black clothes.

    The Circle Opens Quartet 
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Each of the students uses their power in this way. Pasco dances "luck" into fishing nets, for example, and Keth creates a living glass dragon.
  • Anti-Magic: Unmagic in Magic Steps.
  • Asleep for Days: In Shatterglass, Tris exhausts her store of magical power and as a result sleeps for a week.
  • Badass: The four protagonists have become thoroughly badass since gaining their mage accreditation.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The first quartet wasn't devoid of violence and death (what with the pirates in Tris's book) but this quartet has much more graphic depictions, from messy strangulatins to the end of Magic Steps, where Sandry's use of the unmagic net basically causes the assassins to explode all over the room.
  • Body Horror: Do not activate any one of the four main characters' berserk buttons. Some deaths include being torn apart and cannibalized by plants, being burned alive from the inside out, and having certain body parts violently ripped away.
  • The Bully: Pasco's cousin Vani. He constantly teases Pasco for dancing, and it's his threat to beat Pasco up in "training" that causes Pasco's first deliberate use of magic.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Pasco uses his magic to attract loads of fish to the local waters at the start of Magic Steps. At the end, he does the same thing, but with the unmagic assassins.
  • Continuity Nod: In Shatterglass, Tris sees a tiny, misplaced jungle full of Briar's magic from the climax of Street Magic and what might be one of the fires in Kugisko during Cold Fire.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Glass and lightning, although the guy with them has a lot of trouble getting the hang of it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Niko finding the four kids in the first quartet is justified, since he's a seer and scryed them all before picking them up. In this quartet, though, the four all just happen to encounter ambient mages in their widespread travels.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Unmagic, despite the horror-inducing description from a mage viewpoint. The one using it is just a kid, and enslaved at that.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Tharios, at least in Tris's opinion. The Assembly is corrupt and spends a lot of time blaming things on each other; up until that point, Tris had only experienced monarchies with Royals Who Actually Do Something. However, the Assembly doesn't do a whole lot to contradict her opinion either.
  • Dirty Harriet: In Shatterglass, a serial killer stalks the female yaskedasi, members of the entertainment class. Quite a few police officers (of both genders, but mostly women) go undercover as yaskedasi, but this is played logically when someone points out that the grimly staring few who can't dance, juggle, or sing really stick out.
  • Empty Shell: Prolonged exposure to unmagic causes a person to become this.
  • Evil Feels Good: Ben Ladradun, the arsonist in Cold Fire, realizes he likes killing people in fires, and goes from trying to teach people to respect fire to just plain killing everyone he can.
  • Fantastic Drug: Dragonsalt in Magic Steps. It's a highly addictive stimulant deemed so dangerous that dealers are executed. The assassins use it to keep their unmage pliant. Later, they take it themselves to counter the listless apathy caused by unmagic.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: Each country the kids travel uses untranslated forms of address (seemingly equivalent to mister and ms) along with a separate one for mages, which may or may not be gender-specific. For example, dhaskoi/dhasku (male/female) is the word for "mage" in Tharian, while in Namornese, it's viynain/viymese (male/female).
  • Freudian Excuse: In Shatterglass, the killer claims to be the illegitimate child of a yaskedasi and someone of the first class, and was abandoned among the prathmuni. Tris, however, thinks that this was just a fantasy they made up to justify it.
  • Gang of Hats: The street gangs in Chammur all identify themselves with different signs: Camelguts with green sashes, Gate Lords with colorblocking outfits, and Vipers with a nose ring. Briar mentions that his old gang sign was a blue armband.
  • Impact Silhouette: Daja, keeping herself warm through magic, melts a perfect outline of herself in the snow when she falls into a bank of it in Cold Fire. The onlookers are puzzled.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Happens to Kethlun on Yali's account in Shatterglass, combined with Stuffed In The Fridge. It's especially surprising for Tamora Pierce of all people to create a Disposable Woman.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in Magic Steps when a baby is specifically mentioned as being killed during a massacre. In addition, at one point in Cold Fire, a house burns down where a child was having a birthday party and sleepover. Not all of them make it.
  • Insult to Rocks: Olennika once called the local mages "parasites". Heluda Salt thinks that this is insulting to parasites, since at least parasites are useful in that they're able to be a meal for other creatures.
  • I Owe You My Life: Alzena the assassin in Magic Steps. She feels indebted to the Dihanur family for taking her in after her parents' murder and giving her a husband.
  • Jerk Ass: Jebilu Stoneslicer in Street Magic, a Fat Bastard stone mage who used his influence to outlaw all other stone mages in Chammur (a city that really needs multiple stone mages, as it's primarily on/in rock) so he wouldn't have to compete with anyone, tries to shirk his teaching responsibility to Evvy, and who is refused by Evvy once Rosethorn forces him to do it.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Ben initially starts setting fires to test his trainee firefighters and prove to the Kugisko councils that they need his firefighters. Setting fires was wrong, but he was actually exactly right- Kugisko is about 95% wood, and fires can break out at any time.
  • Karmic Death: In Cold Fire, it's mentioned that arsonists are burned alive. Sure enough, Ben is sentenced to be burned alive. However, Daja and several others end up making it quicker and less painful.
  • Land of One City: Tharios, a city-state.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Tris's student was an average, talented glass blower before he was hit by lightning. He's still partly paralyzed and shell-shocked from it, and had to re-learn glass blowing from the ground up — only to discover he'd manifested unpredictable ambient magic related to glass and lightning, and it's up to Tris to help him learn to control it. Previous to that, he had a tiny bit of ambient glass magic.
  • Magic Dance: In Magic Steps, the power exhibited by the young mage boy Sandry finds.
  • Mauve Shirt: Magic Steps has Wulfric Snaptrap, an irascible but likable harrier-mage who Sandry helps to investigate the Rokat murders. He's abruptly killed when they enter the latest crime scene.
  • Merchant City: Chammur in Street Magic sits on the intersection of trade routes between Yanjing and a few Pebbled Sea countries, attracting buyers and sellers from all over. Much of the book happens in souks, as Briar sets up a stall himself.
  • Mommy Issues: Ben Ladradun's mother is verbally and emotionally abusive. He mentions putting a stop to her physical beatings long ago.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted with the strangling deaths in Street Magic and Shatterglass.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Cold Fire, it turns out that the fire-proof gloves Daja makes out of living metal for Ben allows him to start even more fires in the city, since he was the arsonist they had all been hunting.
  • Pyromaniac: The arsonist in Cold Fire. Who turns out not to be a mage at all.
  • Renowned Selective Mentor: Addressed in Cold Fire when the local celebrity cook-mage tests Jory before agreeing to train her, being accustomed to dumb kids trying to get her attention but who can't actually do magic or handle her workload. Jory proves that she has the power and the determination to succeed.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Tharians believe that dead bodies spread death to those who touch them, and as such have anything connected to a dead body cleansed completely. The problem is, they think it's a spiritual pollution rather than germs.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Jory and Nia in Cold Fire. Jory is outgoing and energetic, while Nia is quiet and focused.
  • Street Urchin: Evvy and the gang kids that Briar befriends in Street Magic.
  • Strictly Formula: Circle kid leaves Winding Circle with teacher, finds kid with ambient magic, teaches kid with ambient magic while simultaneously trying to solve a strange series of crimes. It's not ironclad, though—Sandry actually stays in Emelan, and Daja is able to find other ambient mages in Kugisko to do the lion's share of teaching for the Bancanor twins. And Tris' student is an adult, which creates quite a different dynamic.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else: In the Shatterglass, the serial killer turns out to be one of the Hindu Untouchable/Dalit Expy characters who have been constantly on the outskirts of the protagonists' radar, cleaning, being abused, and biding their time.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: In Cold Fire, Ben Ladradun initially sets his fires to convince the city officials that firefighters are necessary. At first, he was always careful to only set fires to abandoned structures or at times when no one was inside, but when he unintentionally kills a homeless woman in one, he realizes he likes the feeling and that people are listening more closely to boot.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: The reaction of the Acalons, a police family, to finding out that Pasco has dance magic. That is, until Sandry explains and demonstrates some potential uses of dance magic—attracting criminals towards them, for instance.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?:
    • Pasco's siblings, cousins, parents, and adult relatives are forever shaking their heads at his flibbertigibbet ways.
    • Keth's family used to give him some flak for only having a tiny amount of glass magic, but he always reminded them that his considerable mundane skill made up for it.
  • Wrong Context Magic: In Magic Steps, Sandry has to figure out a mage whose magic somehow manipulates sheer nothingness. His magic is so drastically different from anything seen before or since it may count as this.

    Later Books 
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The God-King of Gyongxe is about Evvy's age. She and Briar think it's a pretty harsh job for a kid.
  • Bad Boss: Servants to the Yanjingyi emperor who fail to please in some way are beheaded,
  • Big Damn Heroes: After Fin abducts Sandry, she calls Briar for help, so he calls Tris to help him get Sandry from a secret underground room. Tris literally blows the door open, scattering the guards and their gear, then holds them in place with lightning while Briar saunters in after her to free Sandry.
  • Blessed with Suck: Zhegorz in Will of the Empress, first seen as an unnamed but helpful mental ward patient during the hospital fire in Cold Fire. He was driven insane by a combination of hearing and seeing things on the wind, being mistaken for insane because he was hearing and seeing things on the wind, and being "treated" for his half-existent insanity.
  • Continuity Nod: It's heavily implied that Nory of Melting Stones is the daughter of Pauha, the pirate queen Tris killed in The Power In the Storm.
    • As mentioned above, Zhegorz, a very minor character in Cold Fire, reappears as one of the supporting cast in Will of the Empress.
  • Courtly Love: Briar has this toward Berenene in Will of the Empress. Lampshaded.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: The Gyongxin tradition of sky burial. Also known as "not being bothered that vultures are eating your fallen comrades."
  • Cut Himself Shaving: After Briar and a jealous courtier get into a fight over Berenene's partiality for Briar, they tell the people who find them that their argument was over magic.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Sandry makes good use of this, but in a genuinely disabling manner. She undoes every single stitch on their bodies, from clothing to the leather on their armor—and at the suggestion of one of her guards, the tack on their horses to boot.
  • Deus ex Machina: Literally in Battle Magic. The gods of Gyongxe humiliate Weishu and kick him out.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Battle Magic ends with fighting a very long battle against Weishu's army and successfully holding him off, though with the knowledge that they'll be back again. Then, everyone wakes up in chains with Weishu on the throne because he suddenly always had sleeper agents in the capital… which goes on to set up a Deus ex Machina.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the beginning of Battle Magic, Emperor Weishu is showing Rosethorn and Briar his rose gardens and finds one moldy plant. First he says he'll tear out the plant and whip the gardeners. Then later, he burns the entire garden. With the gardeners in it.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Ealaga's rebuttal to Ambros near the end of Empress. Replace "kidnap" with "rape" and note the resemblance to modern-day discussions about rape culture, not to mention all the Victim Blaming that Berenene engages in. Of course, Briar earlier explicitly calls abduction marriages rape.
    "Each time a man succeeds, we place our daughters and our sisters under new safeguards. We put their lives under new restrictions. We give them new signs that a man in whose company they find themselves might plan to kidnap them. Don’t we teach our women to view all men according to the actions of a few?"
  • Domestic Abuse: Sandry meets and uses her authority as Clehame to rescue an abused woman named Gudruny who was forced to marry against her will.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Battle Magic Luvo says this to Briar when they finally meet.
    "I did think you would be larger, from Evumeimei’s descriptions."
  • Fantastic Honorifics: In addition to the Namornese address for mages, the titles used for various noble ranks (clehame/countess, saghad/baron) are used throughout. The glossary at the back says that each title actually translates to a type of weapon. Yanjing also has its own title for mage.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Droughtwort, first mentioned in Empress. Briar uses it a lot.
  • The Empire: Yanjing in Battle Magic. It conquers a couple of neighbors during the story and then goes after Gyongxe.
  • The Emperor: Going with the aforementioned Empire, Weishu. He has absolute power and wants to claim Gyongxe because it's the land of the gods. Definitely not the benevolent type.
  • Extended Disarming: Briar in Will of the Empress, used to intimidate an opponent. Daja helps by carrying on a casual conversation throughout.
  • Gold Digger: Several of the men courting and/or trying to abduct Sandry in Empress. It turns out House Landreg is absolutely loaded, and Berenene wants to pair Sandry off to a pliable courtier so that she'll have access to all that income.
  • Good Old Ways: "Horse-rump" marriages in Namorn, the nickname for marriage by abduction. In most cases it's done to spice up a relationship or as a way for a couple to elope. However, it is often inflicted on unwilling women as well, and even the Empress has had it tried on her twice. Local authorities tend to be very lenient when a punishment is required for it, as it's a tradition from the Empire's seed country.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Central theme in Will of the Empress. Averted… eventually… when the four accept that there really are some attitudes from childhood that you would do well to keep, such as trust, openness and optimism. Their "grown up" cynicism gets them into trouble; their recovered trust and idealism saves them from it.
  • Hand or Object Underwear: A man does this while shouting at Sandry when she unravels his clothes, as well as the clothes of twenty others who tried to kidnap her.
  • Heroic BSOD: As Empress opens, Briar seems to be suffering PTSD/BPD from an unspecified event, most noticeably a newly developed tendency to sleep with any woman willing to hold still. Turns out he and Rosethorn got caught in a war.
  • Idle Rich: In Empress, Sandry is forced to confront the uncomfortable truth that her parents were both selfish pleasure-seekers who didn't care a whit about properly managing their estate.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The fer Roths gambled away most of their estate. Shan went to the capital in the hopes that he could marry Berenene and gain access to her riches. Failing that, he tried wooing—and then abducting—Sandry instead.
  • I Owe You My Life: Rizu towards Berenene. Berenene saved her from an unwanted arranged marriage and gave her an powerful position, ensuring that she no longer had to rely on her family and could look for love as she chose. This is part of why she refuses to leave with Daja.
  • Irony: In Yanjing, cinnabar has the symbolic meaning of long life. Cinnabar contains mercury.
  • It's All About Me: Emperor Weishu is a horrific example of this, because he has unlimited power in Yanjing and is entirely unafraid to use it.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Yanjingyi mages all over. They can't even conceive of ambient magic and seem to use every plant and mineral against its inclinations. For example, they put poison spells in willow wood. Willow, of course, is the basis for aspirin. This is rather egregious considering that they're able to send a very cunningly poisoned piece of cloth to Berenene in Will of the Empress, on top of the fact that real Chinanote  knew exactly how to use willow bark.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Rizuka fa Dalach, Wardrobe Mistress of the Empress of Namorn, is a lesbian.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: In Will of the Empress, Empress Berenene's goal was to get Sandry to Namorn and married off to one of her pawns so that the sizable income from Sandry's estates went into the imperial coffers and not Emelan's. She also wanted the services of Sandry's friends (a powerful weather mage, smith mage, and garden mage) to strengthen her rule. In the end, Tris, Daja, and Briar reject the offers of wealth and power and manage to get Sandry out of the country. Berenene does partially get what she wants as Sandry is forced to sign over her land and titles to her seneschal in order to keep the Empress from trying the same thing again later.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Comes in the form of a "fall down the stairs" curse that Ishabal uses on Tris. The description of the injuries and the other characters' horrified reactions to them (with the healers saying it's damn near miraculous she wasn't dead) is quite disturbing.
  • Noodle Incident: The four remember the time they tried alcohol. It ended with a barn being destroyed.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Rather "not now, homeless semi-madman." Zhegorz gets this when he tries to report the things he's hearing and seeing on the winds, as the others assume that Tris sent him with them to keep him busy rather than as a genuine substitute for herself while she recovers from injuries.
  • Perception Filter: Gyongxe is the home of many gods and things that the gods made (or which made themselves), examples being naga and "cave snakes" (little skulls that move around on a spinal column). However, you lose all clear memory of these things when you leave its borders because they prefer to be left alone.
  • Physical God: The tiger gods, big stone statues that smack around enemies. Some of the gods of Gyongxe take part in the battle against Weishu, and their mortal forms can be killed.
  • The Power of Friendship: Deconstructed; Sandry still wants it to apply, but they've grown older and had so many disparate experiences that they clash more often than not. Then it gets reconstructed.
  • Pretty Boy: Berenene keeps her court filled with handsome, young, unmarried men as ornaments and prospective lovers.
  • Retcon: In Will of the Empress, Briar has a mind palace that he created while imprisoned by the Yanjingyi. In Battle Magic, Briar is only held captive for a few hours and we never see him creating it.
  • Sacred Hospitality: It's generally understood that men are not supposed to abduct their wives inside someone's halls, but only out in the open. Otherwise it's a deadly insult to the liege lord or lady, plus a severe embarrassment that shows they can't even protect someone in their own house.
  • Smug Snake: Finlach in Empress. He's terribly smug when he abducts Sandry and tells her all about how she's going to give him an heir and that the Namornese know how to handle mage-wives, but he didn't reckon on her friends.
  • Standard Royal Court: The Empress Berenene in The Will of The Empress rules hers with an iron fist, though she piles on the decadence and parties and amusements all she can. Ishabal Ladyhammer does triple-duty as her chief mage, head of her armies, and chief adviser.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: Apparently this is standard practice in Namorn when a man kidnaps a mage for his bride. Sandry winds up in a box filled with magic runes that unravel her power. (Fortunately, her abductor didn't realize that she had some non-thread magic from her link with her friends.)
  • Take That: Near the end of Empress, Sandry complains about the way men, in general, treat Namornese women (i.e. as property) after freeing Gudruny from an abusive forced marriage and escaping two attempts on herself. Ambros scolds her with, basically, "not all guys are like that"note . Ealaga retorts that by legally condoning this kind of misogyny, women have to assume that any man is a potential abductor and, in fact, even she and Ambros have taught their daughters this sort of caution. So instead of blaming women for resenting legally-sanctioned abuse, they should perhaps stop legally sanctioning abuse and thus remove the root cause of that resentment.
  • Tantrum Throwing: In Will of the Empress, after Daja finds out her love interest isn't going to come with her when they leave Namorn, she locks herself up in her room, crying. Tris comes in to yell at her for tossing a fit and snapping at Zhegorz and Daja throws a dish at her, which Tris ducks away from. The next thing Daja throws, Tris bats away with her wind magic.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Daja first meets Zhegorz in the psych wing of a Namornese hospital, and Tris insists on Briar seeing a "mind healer" for his PTSD.
  • Title Drop: "Will of the empress" is dropped word for word twice, with "her will" and "imperial will" several more times.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Everyone trying to kidnap Sandry. Let's face it, even if they managed to keep her magic bound, they'd still have to spend the rest of their lives fearing metal, plants… and also air, water, and ground.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The Booklist summary on the Amazon.com page for Empress revealed the plot twist that Daja likes girls. Surprise!
    • There was also the map at the front of the book that loudly announced that Shan kidnaps Sandry.
  • War Is Hell: The war between Yanjing and Gyongxe in Battle Magic. Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn are exposed to horror and brutality with entire villages razed. We see the results with their behavior in Empress and Melting Stones—they all seem to have PTSD.
  • Wrong Context Magic: Ambient magic in Yanjing. They have no clue what it is, can't detect it, and are therefore extremely vulnerable when Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy use it against them.
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alternative title(s): Emelan Universe; Circle Of Magic
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