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 Street Magic, Lady Zenadia, who takes a teenage street gang under her wing and uses them vicariously to fight deadly gang wars just for the hell of it (she's bored with her retirement), while members who displease her get strangled and buried in her garden for fertilizer.
In Magic Steps, Alzena and Nurhar, who murder members of a rival merchant family, getting away with it because they have a mage who works with "unmagic" to hide them... a crippled, child mage in whom they've cultivated a drug addiction so he'll be dependent on them, to the point where he's suicidal and effectively soulless. Illustrated fantastically by the attack on Fariji Rokat's family in the nursery - Alzena kills the baby first, then the little girl, then Rokat, then his wife in case she's pregnant again.
Rokat wouldn't see the blade, only his little girl as she fell over, bleeding. He gasped and lunged for the child, just as his wife had gone for the baby. Alzena stepped into his rush and cut at his neck, smiling. He had seen his children die. That was good.
In Cold Fire, Ben Ladradun, who secretly sets the fires he puts out, because he likes being hero-worshipped.
Regardless, she did have a Pet the Dog moment and didn't learn to love killing huge numbers of people.
In ''Shatterglass', the nameless murderer, who kills innocent women and displays their bodies to mess with the oppressive class structure of his society — never mind that the women are victims of the same system and never did a thing to him.
Emperor Weishu in Battle Magic. The first sign is when he orders that a rose bush damaged by fungus be burned and the gardeners be whipped for not taking care of it before Rosethorn and co arrive- harsh, yes, but given how much emphasis everyone has put on doing things correctly and saving face, maybe understandable. Rosethorn manages to get him to give her the rose bush... and then he has all the gardeners killed and the rose garden set on fire. And he talks about having Parahan's sister captured and enslaved so he can have a 'complete set'.
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 alone, in the dark after she ran out of candles. She manages to discover her latent magical powers, but by the time she gets out of the room, everyone in the house is dead.
Strawman Has a Point: 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.
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.
Values Dissonance: Tris's assessment of democracy vs. hereditary rulership in Shatterglass, although it's highly unlikely that the left-leaning Pierce holds the same opinion.
One could argue that from the way she was speaking, Tris simply has no tolerance for bureaucrats and their political squabbling.
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.