These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
YMMV: Circle of Magic
Angst? What Angst?: Gudruny Iarun. She spent decades married to a physically and verbally abusive husband (who she never wanted to marry in the first place), was callously refused help by Sandry's mother twice, and finally snuck into Sandry's house and hiding in a desperate attempt to have her marriage annulled. She's described then as looking permanently worn-out and disheveled, naturally, and one would expect that suffering many years of Domestic Abuse would leave her with many emotional issues—nope. As soon as Sandry hires her as a maid, Gudruny turns into a motherly mentor with no apparent ill effects from her mistreatment, with no mention of her having ever visited a mind-healer.note From conversations with Briar, it's implied they can magically treat mental disorders.
She might just be a Stepford Smiler and she might have been seeing a mind healer off screen.
In which case there would have been no reason not to mention those things because Briar was being a Stepford Smiler (badly) and the girls were trying to get him to visit a mind-healer himself.
In "Magic Steps", we have Alzena and Nurhar who murder members of a rival merchant family, the Rokats, getting away with it because they have addicted a mage (by the way, a child mutilated by pirates, possessing a terrifying magical power that has ruined his life before they met him) to a Fantastic Drug so he will be utterly dependent on them. Upon attacking the family, the two make certain they kill the baby first, before killing the little girl, then their rival, then his wife in case she might be pregnant again. Alzena specifically saved Rokat until after he had seen his children die. It made it more fun.
In a later scene Alzena mentions that she'd had qualms about killing the children once, but with the unmagic eating away at her ability to care, all that was left was some satisfaction at a completed job.
Crowning Moment of Awesome: Frequently and awesomely. However, Pierce always chooses to show the characters' remorse over any lives they may have taken, no matter how evil.
Also, her backstory. She survived the smallpox epidemic because her nurse locked her in a small room, after walking into find her parents dead bodies in their bedroom, alone, in the dark after her oil lamp ran out of oil. She manages to discover her latent magical powers, but by the time she gets out of the room, everyone in the house is dead.
Imagine managing to piss off the entire circle as a whole. Suddenly, you can no longer trust metal, thread, fire, plants, or even the air you breathe or the earth under your feet not to attack you.
In "Daja's Book", the group meets an academic mage named Yarrun Firetamer who is very resentful of famous mages like Niko. He's obnoxious and refuses to listen to Rosethorn's accurate assessment of the fire danger and dies when he's too proud to accept help when she's proved right, but he has a conversation with Daja in which he complains about how mages who see to "mundane" things like plumbing and food spoilage are scorned in favor of people with unusual or flashy specialties. Yarrun might be a pill but those things are, in fact, very important to society (see how long you let your toilet back up before you call the plumber), and "if other people can work their spells as you do and get the same results" is how scientific research in Real Lifeactually works. Daja dismisses it as more bitterness.
In her defense, her calling it bitterness came from him saying she and her friends were "fortunate" and she's remembering how each of them had their lives ruined by their magic/in the process of discovering it. Plus, the people who get famous for without reasons aren't to blame for the system anymore than the people who unfairly lack acclaim, so bitterly resenting the famous mages is pretty petty.
Briar meets with the mutabir, or head of the City Watch, during Street Magic. We're supposed to hate him, as does Briar, for acting so heartless about the problems of Chammur, and for wanting to use Evvy as a spy in Lady Zenadia's house. The thing is, everything the mutabir says is absolutely correct. For all Briar and Rosethorn may have saved one girl from poverty, there are thousands more they didn't, and no-one can save them all. If he gets rid of the current gangs, more will rise to take their places, as has always happened. He really can't pin a few murders of beggars and street orphans on one of the most powerful people in the city. And he is genuinely trying to clean up the corruption in the city; while using a child as a double agent in such a dangerous household is morally reprehensible, from his position it is the only way he can nail Zenadia for her crimes.
Tear Jerker: One at the end of "Briar's Book" when Rosethorn dies, and Briar follows her with all three girls providing an anchor at their own risk.
Tris and Keth in "Shatterglass" being brought before and shown Yali's corpse. Even Chime cried!
Followed up with the scene where Tris holds the now-orphaned Glaki as she cries, because she has no one else, and Tris remembers what that's like.
In "The Will of the Empress", Rizu refuses to leave Namorn and come with Daja, thus breaking Daja's heart. Comparing the state Daja was left in with how happy she was with Rizu is enough to make anyone tear up.
The deaths of Evvy's cats in "Battle Magic".
Unfortunate Implications: In "The Circle Opens" and the later books, the protagonists go a-travelin' outside of Emelan. And every city or country they visit is, in at least one respect, barbaric, backwards, arrogant, unjust, take your pick... and all-in-all they can't get back to Emelan fast enough. From Tharios to Namorn, none of them seem to find anything they can appreciate about foreign cultures (although they do befriend certain individuals… who are either just as critical or come around to being critical) except in Gyongxe.
Values Dissonance: In "Cold Fire", the wearing of fur. Tamora Pierce herself wrote a note found at the end of the book explaining why the fur-wearing was necessary and reassuring her fans that in Real Life, she's very against the wearing of fur since we have much better ways to keep warm in modern times.
What an Idiot: Okay, Fin, you want to tell Sandry how truly sorry you are for her mistreatment at the hands of your countrymen and how you so very much disagree with the abduction-marriage tradition. Drawing your sword to force your way into the house very shortly after she's just escaped from one such attempt is, perhaps, not the best gesture of good faith?
What Measure Is a Non-Badass?: Although Pierce goes out of her way to deconstruct the Real Women Don't Wear Dresses trope, that doesn't stop fans from believing in it. Sandry, being the "girliest" protagonist (because Textile Work Is Feminine, she loves fashion, and she's a countess), tends to get a lot of flak from the readers who don't think she's as cool as the other three despite her own numerous displays of badassery.
The Woobie: Many, many characters have their moments.
Right in the first chapter of the first book, Sandry locked in a hidden room alone after her parents die and a mob tears her nursemaid apart right outside the door, watching her lamp flame burn low and being terrified of the dark. She's there for two weeks, long enough that when a rescue party comes she thinks she's hallucinating, long enough that when she sees the light from their lamp she screams with pain. Later we find that she lay in a Heroic BSOD for weeks. For long after, she's afraid of the dark.
Also first chapter of the first book, Daja Kisubo waking up on the ocean after her family died with the ship. She's remarkably good at holding herself together, but when she unknowingly uses her power to call over a chest with food and water she cries, and the narration baldly states that after all, she is young and doesn't want to die. Then her people cast her out because sole survivors are bad luck.
In "Cold Fire", she has such hero worship of Ben Ladarun and refuses to think much of the mounting oddities of his situation and involvement with the fires he fights, she makes him fireproof gloves… and then near the end of the book it all comes crashing down in the most painful way as she realizes how misplaced her trust was, and that her beautiful invention, designed to help save lives, was happily used to kill more than thirty people. That entire chapter is just so painful.
Lark's backstory is never really laid out in whole, but she was an acrobat in her youth until she got asthma and ended up living in slums for an unknown length of time. She is very aware of the desperation of great poverty. A Noodle Incident possibly tied to that is that she knows what horse urine tastes like.
Sweet little Glaki in "Shatterglass" never had a father. Then she loses both her mother and her adopted mother all in a few weeks. Oh, and she's only five years old at this point. Poor kid.
Tris. She was shuffled from relative to relative, who all hated her because of her unidentified magical powers. She was mercilessly bullied by school-mates and family for years. When she went to Winding Circle she was able to find safety, but out of her adopted siblings, parents and teachers, she doesn't seem to have much luck. Apparently her every attempt at dating failed due to people making fun of her due to her looks, and practically every other mage hates her due to her incredible powers. She can't even use her magic for a traditional career, since it would involve ruining weather systems and/or killing huge numbers of people.
Evvy, who was sold as a slave because a mere girl took up room and food that could have gone to her brothers. She actually watched her mother sell her. Then she ended up in the middle of a war-zone, suffered heavy PTSD, and lost her oldest friends, her cats.
Rosethorn. Horrifically abused by her father, contracts the Blue Pox in "Briar's Book" and dies. Brought back to life but is severely weakened (this is especially obvious in "Battle Magic"), gets caught up in a war and ends up with severe PTSD. And these are only the more major things.