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 it looks like these four are the only ones capable of finding the source - and of preventing 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.
Will of the Empress reunites the foursome as they face the titular Empress and her intricate court, and have no time to sort out their issues among themselves (especially in matters romantic) before they have to stay ahead of the Empress' own games.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 EmpressForthcoming books will cover Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy's adventures in analogue-China on the far side of the world, and Tris as a student at a university for mages.Now has its own character page. Not to be confused with the 6-book series The Circle of Magic written by James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle.
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.
How Keth creates Chime, a sentient glass dragon.
Niko continually lampshades this, especially in Briar's Book, when he tells Tris that the spell on her glasses to see magic wore off only a week after he put it on.
"There's an advantage to instructing young mages: suggestion counts for so much with you four."
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'.
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.
Blessed with Suck: Tris's magic plus her asshole relatives was 100% responsible for her miserable childhood. Even once she's an adult, people are freaked out by it, and she has to deal with hearing voices and seeing things when she doesn't want to. Zhegorz got it even worse — 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.
Frostpine in his backstory. His family found out he had magic talent long before he was even old enough to understand he had it, let alone learn to use it. So they get the bright idea to rent his power out to a local hedge wizard. The thing is, having done this, they then conveniently forget to tell their son that he even has magic at all. So one day their client dies, and Frostpine finds out the whole deal in the worst way possible: by getting all of his considerable power back in one go. It's thus understandable when he flips his shit after Daja lends her power to Sandry for a few days while she tries to separate them; later, when he cools off and fully understands the situation, he does acknowledge that he may have overreacted, considering he knows Sandry is trustworthy and all.
Body Horror: Do not activate any one of the four main characters' berserk buttons. Some deaths include being torn and cannibalized by plants, being burned alive from the inside out, and having certain body parts violently ripped away.
Cant 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 honour 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.
Of particular note is Sandry, the most dutiful and altruistic of the four, who gets a scolding from her uncle, the Duke, at the start of The Will of the Empress. He guilt-trips her because she doesn't immediately start reading reports from her cousin in Namorn. Bear in mind that she always reads the reports - she's just a little slower to do so than she is to attend to matters in Emelan. Also bear in mind that she has taken over much of the Duke's work at this point.
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.
Continuity Nod: It's pretty heavily implied that Nory from Melting Stones is daughter of the Pirate Queen Tris killed in The Power In The Storm.
There's also a subtle one in Shatterglass. When Tris was learning to scry on the wind she ends up looking out to a city with an inappropriately-placed small jungle glowing with Briar's magic (from the climax of Street Magic).
An even subtler one in the same book, when Tris is first scrying, she sees a wooden building on fire with people rushing around it, possibly one of the buildings from Cold Fire.
Contrived Coincidence: Okay, without it there wouldn't be a series. But seriously, what were the odds that four mages of an unheard-of level of power were all born around the same time, all lost their parents in some way as they grew up, while meanwhile their magic — even in its more ordinary aspects — was somehow missed by everybody who might have noticed it, until they all just happened to discover it at the same time — and Niko, luckily, had scryed that this would happen, decided to follow up on it, and went around the world collecting them. In Sandry's, Daja's and probably Briar's cases, he also happened to be just in time to save their lives. Go figure, eh?
When they first met, they were only minor mages. Then something involved with patterns and magic becoming stronger (it's handwaved in Magic Steps and Daja's Book) involves their actually becoming magically stronger as the plot goes along.
The books do address both parts, in fact all four characters are shocked that nobody noticed they had magic, apparently their style of magic, which must be used through certain objects like plants, thread, or forged metal, is rather hard to detect. And they were all said to be above average in power before being trapped in a collapsed mine forced them to combine their magic, essentially mixing their souls together. They unknowingly performed an insanely dangerous ritual to drastically boost their powers. Niko's magic is related to vision, and he can see magic.
Their powers had at least partially manifested itself earlier in various character traits (eg. Daja's liking smithing, Sandry's penchant for embroidery) or in ways that didn't make it obvious it was magic (Briar's incident with the rose vine during a burglary, Tris's apparent 'possession' by demons and various weird phenomena).
And it just so happens that for 3 out of the 4, they didn't often encounter their area of expertise in their homes (Traders are merchants, not craftsmen, so Daja wouldn't have much opportunity to see her prowess at blacksmithing; Sandry, as a noble, wouldn't get to do much complex work with thread and mentioned sneaking out at night to sew more; Briar lived in a big city and wouldn't have encountered plants very often. Tris is the only one whose power manifested often, and that led to everyone believing that she was possessed because she didn't appear to have academic magic).
Combo Platter Powers: Glass and lightning, although the guy with them has a lot of trouble getting the hang of it.
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. * Trader mages are said to be the only ones capable of manipulating and controlling the raw forces of nature without issue. Nico himself describes Trader mage training as "learning to be a puff of wind...and nothing else for 10 years".
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.
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 realise 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...
Democracy Is Bad: A view espoused by Tris when she visits the city-state of Tharios (which makes a certain amount of sense as she grew up in monarchies that had good rulers). Although it's run by a representative government, those representatives all come from the high tiers of its Fantastic Caste System, so it's not exactly the most shining example.
Determined Homesteader: Sandrilene shows this side of herself in The Will of the Empress - she is determined to own and take care of her land no matter how the Empress threatens her. But in the end her friends pressure her into giving it up - fortunately it goes into good hands.
Dirty Harriet: 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.
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.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Emelan seems to be 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.
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."
His student, Evvy, takes this one step further by being a friend to rocks.
And Tris is a friend to lightning, and Daja to metal.
In fact, that's the entire difference between academic magic (textbooks and rituals), and ambient magic (what the protagonists have - very powerful, but limited in scope). They have power, because they make 'friends' with whatever they have affinity with. (Remember Sandry's first magic lesson, petting and ordering the scared bits of wool?) ... Briar and Rosethorn have more of this than most of the characters, but only because plants are also alive in the usual sense.
Friendship Trinket: The main characters have a string circle containing their united magic which represents their friendship.
Good Is Not Nice: Tris. When her student asks her if she's really nice during Shatterglass, she actually blushes.
Also, Rosethorn. Both of them have Tsundere tendencies.
Green Rocks: Daja's living metal, which she's used to make everything from prosthetic limbs to fireproof gloves to scrying mirrors to earplugs and eyeglasses for Zhegorz that filter out distant, magically-detected images from nearby, physical ones. It's not even a hundred percent clear why her hand keeps producing more metal in the first place, since it was a finite amount that melted on her. Her metal tree, for instance, only kept growing once they stuck it in the ground and it had copper to draw on — it couldn't make living metal from nothing. Maybe her cells taught it how to replicate. Or something.
She mentions in a later book that it only grows very slowly, likely leeching copper from her body. To actually make something she takes a small amount of the metal and mixes it with brass and her own blood.
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.
Heroic RROD - Yarrun. Not truly hero, but otherwise fits the trope completely
Heroic Safe Mode: How Sandry has to operate in Magic Steps to weave a net of unmagic.
Hey, It's That Voice!: In the Full Cast Audio audiobooks of the series, every character is played by a different voice actor, but due to the small size of the company, voice actors will often end up taking several different roles in the same series. For example, Pierce herself is the narrator of almost every book, except Melting Stones (narrated in first person by Evvy) where she voices a very minor character called Dubyine who is notable mostly for, well, having the same voice as the narrator in every other book in the series. Her husband Tim Liebe usually voices Dedicate Crane, but is also Yarrun Firetamer in Daja's Book, Zhegorz in The Will of the Empress and Oswin in Melting Stones. There are other examples.
Honor Before Reason: Evvy in Melting Stones when she returns to the volcanic island to rescue the little girl she had scared into running off at an earlier point.
A lot of the trouble the kids get into in the first quartet has to do with simply not knowing better, but Briar knew exactly what he was doing when he brought Rosethorn back from death against Lark's stern warning.
For Traders, survivor's guilt isn't a post-trauma disorder; it's a cultural institution. Traders who survive major catastrophes that wipe out most of their ship/caravan are considered to be the cause thereof, and are branded unlucky and excommunicated from Trader society. It's practically unheard of, once a Trader has been outcast in this fashion, for them to be reinstated into Trader society, and any Trader that wants to deal with them must wear special makeup and go through a ritual cleansing for each meeting. This is all important to the plot from Sandry's Book to Daja's Book, as it all happens to Daja.
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.
Infant Immortality: Averted in the Circle Opens: Magic Steps when a baby is specifically mentioned as being killed during a massacre. Children are killed at several points during that quartet.
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.
In Tris' Book, a guard calls pirates 'dogs' and then turns to Little Bear and says, "No offense to four-legged dogs"
Lightning Can Do Anything: Tris's student was an average, talented glass blower before he was hit by lightning. He's still partly paralysed 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.
It's stated that this is because he was already a not-very-powerful ambient glass mage.
Lipstick Lesbian: Rizuka fa Dalach, Wardrobe Mistress of the Empress of Namorne is a lesbian.
Magic Dance: In Magic Steps, the power exhibited by the young mage boy Sandry finds.
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...
Though, this is actually attributed to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of the wars in Gyongxe, he has nightmares when he sleeps alone, and thus seeks to share his bed with another whenever possible.
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, but the girls' reasons haven't been spelled out.
Sandry most likely didn't because she is still very close to her noble family and doesn't want to give that up, Daja has made it clear that she will not forsake her Trader heritage, including her name. Not sure about Tris though...
Tris doesn't want people to be any more afraid of her power than they already are.
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.
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.
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.
No Antagonist: Out of the first quartet, there's only a real antagonist in The Power in the Storm.
Nobody Poops: Averted. Prathmuni having the duty of taking away the "night soil" - the contents of chamberpots - is brought up in Shatterglass. Characters use said chamberpots, and a character offering to take a love interest's full pot out because the love interest is tired is treated as a minor thing.
No Dead Body Poops: Averted in the death of one of the gang members and other strangling deaths in the series.
In Briar's Book, Rosethorn compares the taste of willowbark tea to horse urine. Lark informs her that horse urine tastes much nastier, but refuses to explain how she knows.
At some point, the four tried alcohol. This ended with a barn being utterly destroyed.
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.
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 semi-straight with Zhegorz near the end of Empress, although it's more like "not now madman" in that case.
Subverted and later played straight but justified in Tris's Book. The adult mages usually take the kids' observations as worth listening to, with Frostpine even encouraging Daja to report odd observations. But late in the 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, and later his student is also female.
Specifically, any mage that discovers magic in someone is responsible for teaching them or finding a mage with the same kind of magic to take over instruction. Briar, Sandry, and Daja have Rosethorn, Lark, and Frostpine to teach them, but mages who can control lightning like Tris are both rare and tend to get themselves killed young so Niko is responsible. Given that one of his skills is finding mages, one wonders how often it's happened to him over the years. Maybe that's why he goes out of his way to meet so many mages — so he'll know where to send students.
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.
Rosethorn, Lark, and Frostpine are also apparently quite famous - the main characters are shocked when Crane tells them they all have practically royalty-class mentors. Their teachers were simply the best teachers for them and saw no reason to mention their fame.
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 advisor.
Street Urchin: Both Briar and his student Evvy start out this way.
Superpower Lottery: Tris. The girl has an insane amount of power, able to control all kinds of weather, plus tap into earthquakes and volcanoes, and can perform academic magic, and learns the extremely rare ability of scrying the wind without going mad (which is the usual side-effect).
And then has to develop the self-control of a Buddhist monk in order not to kill everyone around her, and suffers for being able to scry the winds. Between the reaction from other mages and the constant headaches and nausea, it's bordering on Blessed with Suck territory.
Also: No job prospects. Fighting makes her sick and she doesn't really have enough control to do anything else.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Will of the Empress is a spectacular Decon-Recon Switch of this trope, forcing the four to examine what exactly their relationship means to them.
Un Equal Rites: Users of Academic magic and Ambient magic don't always get along very well.
Kidnap Briar's student Evvy and have him find out you've been using people as cheap and easy fertilizer, and he'll tear your assassin to pieces with thorny vines. A little later, Evvy drops a floor on her kidnapper.
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 he found an incredible thrill when he came across the body of a homeless person who'd died in a fire, then found that people listened to him more after the death.
Word of Gay: Tamora Pierce stated while writing the series that one of the characters was homosexual, with fans puzzling out who it was. She later confirmed that it was Daja.
Somewhat averted in Will of the Empress, when Daja develops a relationship with Rizu, the Empress's Mistress of the Wardrobe. Also, in the same book, a relationship between Lark and Rosethorn is heavily implied.
"Daja, why didn't you say you're a nisamohi?" he asked, using the Tradertalk word for a woman who loved other women. "What with Lark and Rosethorn, did you think we cared?"
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.