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Literature / Battle Magic

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Battle Magic is the eleventh book in Tamora Pierce's Circleverse, first published in 2013. It's an interquel that details the war between Gyongxe and Yanjing first mentioned in The Will of the Empress.

Briar Moss, Dedicate Initiate Rosethorn and Evumeimei "Evvy" Dingzai are visiting Gyongxe, staying at the First Circle Temple and visiting the God-King, when they discover that the ruthless Emperor of Yanjing is plotting to invade. They step up to help with the defence, but things prove more complicated then they imagine when they become aware of Gyongxe's secrets.


  • An Aesop: Briar, seeing a bad-smelling old beggar, gives him some coin and food. An onlooker scolds him and says that the beggar is just going to spend it on wine or drugs. Briar shrugs and says he doesn't care; even if the beggar's just going to get drunk, so what? He'll be warm and happy for a bit and everyone deserves that.
  • Bad Boss: Servants to the Yanjingyi emperor who fail to please in some way are beheaded, at best.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Emperor Weishu invades Gyongxe for the prestige that taking over "the land of the gods" would afford him. He does meet them, and they are very angry with him wrecking their temples and killing their worshippers.
  • Buried in a Pile of Corpses: Evvy is thrown in a pile of corpses when she uses her magic to convince her Yanjingyi torturers that she's died in order to keep from breaking and answering their questions.
  • The Caligula: The Emperor orders a plant burned because it "betrayed him" by having mold. When Rosethorn points out that there was no way the gardeners could have known it was there, he snottily says that it's "their duty" to know so they should have known it anyway, and burns them all alive for failure (and implicitly as a show of force to Rosethorn).
  • Call-Back: We see how Evvy met the mountain heart/god/spirit Luvo, an event first mentioned in Melting Stones.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The God-King of Gyongxe is about eleven years old during the events of the book. It's pointed out it must be a hard job for someone who's just a kid.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: The Gyongxin tradition of sky burial.
  • Deus ex Machina: Literally. The gods of Gyongxe humiliate Weishu and kick him out.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The book seems to end with the heroes 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: Early in the book, Emperor Weishu is showing Rosethorn and Briar his rose gardens and finds one rosebush suffering from disease. First he says he'll tear out the plant and whip the gardeners for daring to present an imperfect garden to his guests. Rosethorn immediately tries to talk him out of it, going as far as going on her knees and begging him, and swearing to use her magic to create a new type of rose. The Emperor is seemingly mollified and is eager to hear about this new plant, but that night he has men soak the entire garden in oil and burns it. With the gardeners in it, and he looks on as Rosethorn and Briar gape in horror.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Luvo says this to Briar when they finally meet.
    "I did think you would be larger, from Evumeimei’s descriptions."
  • The Empire: Yanjing. It conquers a couple of neighbors during the story and then goes after Gyongxe.
  • The Emperor: Emperor Weishu of Yanjing is a ruthless man who is willing to burn gardeners to death just because they couldn't cure a sick plant. And he has absolute power and wants to claim Gyongxe because it's the land of the gods. Definitely not the benevolent type.
  • Evil Uncle: Parahan and Soudamini's uncle took over their kingdom and gave him to the Emperor of Yanjing as a prisoner. At the end of the book, the twins stay in Gyongxe to earn money to raise an army to overthrow him.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Yanjing is clearly Imperial China.
    • Gyongxe is Tibet, what with being located in the world's highest mountain range and being ruled by a boy who is said to be chosen by the gods.
    • The Realms of the Sun, where Parahan and Soudamini are from, are the subcontinent of India.
  • God-Emperor: One of Weishu's titles is "the son of the gods" and his subjects credit the movements of the weather to him. Of course, this is all propaganda. The God-King of Gyongxe is a subversion: he just channels the gods, he isn't divine himself.
  • Interquel: Set between The Circle Opens and The Will of the Empress.
  • 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 quite cunningly poisoned piece of cloth to Berenene in The Will of the Empress, on top of the fact that real China (where the willow tree originates) figured out its medicinal properties thousands of years ago... without any magic to help. Additionally, the salycylic acid that makes willow and aspirin a painkiller is toxic to humans improperly used or in high enough doses, just like anything else that can be used for healing.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Anyone who encounters the magical creatures who live exclusively in Gyongxe will forget them when they leave.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When touring the Emperor's rose garden Briar and Rosethorn notice an ailing plant off the beaten path and stop to treat it. This draws Weishu's notice to it, and he demands the rosebush be destroyed and the gardeners whipped until bloody. The visiting plant mages argue, very politely, that the gardeners didn't do anything wrong and that the plant should survive, and when Rosethorn offers to make a new variety of rose out of the offending one Weishu finally agrees to spare it. That night Weishu has the gardeners staked out in the garden, which is doused with oil and set ablaze.
  • Obfuscating Disability: While escaping from Yanjing, Prince Parahan disguises himself as a blind beggar by putting egg whites in his eyes.
  • 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.
  • Retcon: Excluding the presence of magical creatures, since a reason why the protagonists forgot them is explicitly given, many of the details of the war don't quite match up with what was mentioned in The Will of the Empress and Melting Stones. One example is that in Empress, Briar has a mind palace that he created while imprisoned by the Yanjingyi. In this book, Briar is only held captive for a few hours and we never see him creating it.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: Weishu's titles apparently take a few minutes to rattle off in total. Every time he's mentioned by one of his subjects, they refer to him by a different title.
  • Unequal Rites: The mages of Yanjing dismiss things like stone affinities or plant affinities as peasant superstition, writing spells on any material they like whether it's in tune with the spell's purpose or even contrary to it. Because of this, stone and plant mages are able to make the spells backfire by awakening the magic in the beads they put the spells on.
  • War Is Hell: The war between Yanjing and Gyongxe. 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.