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Literature / Circle of Magic

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The original four books.

Circle of Magic is the first series in Tamora Pierce's Circleverse, following the Four-Temperament Ensemble of Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar as they train to become mages in the independent duchy of Emelan.

It's about four children who are all outcasts with different elemental powers as they train at Winding Circle Temple 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.

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.

Tropes found in this series include:

  • 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 Lampshades their tendency to do this through each book.
    "There's an advantage to instructing young mages: suggestion counts for so much with you four."
  • Allegiance Affirmation: After Daja is declared trangshi, she ends up at a temple where she begins studying smithing magic, which she wouldn't be allowed to do in her culture, and becomes part of a very close group of friends. When she gets a chance to rejoin her people, she declines, saying she's changed too much to go back, but is glad to no longer be trangshi and able to speak to her old people again.
  • Alliterative Title: The Fire in the Forging.
  • An Aesop: In the middle of Briar's Book Tris, stressed and upset by Briar and Rosethorn being quarantined in the heart of the epidemic, lashes out and claims that they shouldn't have been on a charity mission to the slums in the first place and that "everyone knows the poor breed disease!" She knows immediately that she's said something she shouldn't have. Lark, who had lived in the slums herself, very gently asks Tris an Armor-Piercing Question - if the poor could afford to live somewhere clean and have medical care, they wouldn't be poor, would they? Tris takes this to heart by later books.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: In the first book, when Sandry invites Daja to sit at her table, with several other noble girls, she introduces her as "Lady Daja". One of the other girls says "If that's a lady, I'm a cat." Sandry, outraged, pours milk onto the girl's plate while pointing out that she is much higher-ranking, ending with "If I tell you my friend is a lady, then you had best start lapping, kitty."
    • In Will of the Empress, Tris points out discrepancies in some accounting books. Sandry sarcastically mentions the possibility that her very trustworthy cousin is stealing from her and Tris replies with, “And I’m the Queen of the Battle Islands.”
  • Artificial Limbs: At the end of Daja's Book, the four present Polyam with a living metal artificial leg they made her, to replace her stump.
  • Artistic License – Biology: All of the testing in Briar's Book is very in vitro, outside of their normal biological context. Elisia Pearldrop dripped substances on rashers of bacon to see if they made the fat dissolve. A heavy focus is put on finding which substances will destroy blue pox that has been extracted and isolated. But in vitro experiments don't do all that well at predicting what happens to a whole creature. Disease-causing agents isolated in a lab are very easy to destroy but it's much more difficult to get such agents into the body where they can do so without also harming the body.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Little Bear. Except to Dedicate Crane.
  • 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 related to metalworking (for example, they aren't bothered by extreme heat and can touch molten metal with their bare skin). Frostpine's other apprentice, Kirel, has limited abilities related only to iron and lacks their secondary powers like heat resistance. He has to outfit himself in more realistic blacksmith fashion.
  • Blood Magic: Niko can use blood sacrifice to boost his vision spell to allow him to see into the past. He notes that since he is a mage with morals, he uses his own blood, and that if he ever hears of his student taking blood from someone else for her magic, she will regret ever meeting him. A lip print in blood is also mentioned as part of a magical contract designed to bind a mage.
  • 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.
  • Classical Elements Ensemble: The books have been collected into sets of two opposing elements, where Sandry and Tris's books is "Water and Fire", while Daja and Briar's is "Air and Earth", using Tris and Daja's covers as the covers of the sets, respectively.
  • 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. note  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. It helps that Traders also believe that debtors go to their version of Hell.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dedicate Crane. When he first appears in Sandry's Book, 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 Briar's Book, 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...
  • Dream Intro: The second book begins with Tris having a Flashback Nightmare about what happened at the end of the first book.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: More importantly, natural phenomena is 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In Daja's Book, Briar makes a passing reference to having had nightmares about something horrible happening to Rosethorn. In the next book she dies of pneumonia in part due to complications from being infected by the blue pox, but Briar is able to pull her back from it.
    • Also in the same book, Daja thinks to herself about ways she could be absolved of her unperson status, including having someone be so indebted to her that they pay to have her name re-added to the list of Traders (which she dismisses as being unlikely to ever happen). That's exactly what happens — she rescues Tenth Caravan Idaram from a forest fire and they get her name removed from the list of trangshi.
  • Good Doc, Bad Doc: In the first three books, a rivalry is set up between Rosethorn, one of the main characters' teacher/foster mother, who's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who due to her Green Thumb genuinely cares for the things she plants. Dedicate Crane, however, is described as petty, mean and much more interested in personal gain. When a plague sweeps the city, forcing them to work together as researchers, these roles just get enforced, with Crane seeming overly cruel to his underlings. Eventually subverted, when it's proven that Crane's strictness was there for very good reasons, and he genuinely works hard to help cure the disease. Given how Osprey talks about him, he's probably less hostile than Rosethorn normally.
  • Heroic RRoD:
    • Two examples in the first book. Tris knocks herself unconscious trying to control the tides, and the earthquake at the climax is magnified with magic backwash after a group of mages tried to absorb its power and were killed by it.
    • In Daja's Book, 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 Choose to Stay:
    • In Daja's Book, a group of Traders who winds up in Daja's debt offer to pay her back with a place among them. Daja doesn't want to give up her 'circle' with Sandry, Tris, and Briar and her study of smithing magic, so she declines to join them.
    • In Briar's Book, after Briar follows his dying teacher to the afterlife, he threatens to cut his connection to the mortal world and stay with her unless she returns home with him. She relents.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: With a different pattern for Market-Based Title-ness:
    • 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 [X] in the [Y]": The Magic in the Weaving, The Power in the Storm, The Fire in the Forging and The Healing in the Vine (same order).
  • 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.
  • Immune to Fire: Fire mages can walk through flames unscathed. Downplayed with Daja and her mentor Frostpine; they're both highly resistant to fire, but an inferno will overwhelm them and they're still susceptible to smoke inhalation.
  • Insult to Rocks: In Tris's Book, a guard calls pirates "dogs" and then turns to Little Bear and says, "No offense to four-legged dogs."
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Dedicate Crane is absolutely brutal to his staff in Briar's Book, where he is leading the effort to find a cure for the rapidly spreading, magically-caused plague devastating Summersea. He will fire them for the slightest mistake and insists that absolutely everything be done perfectly — no exceptions, no second chances. And he is absolutely correct.
  • King of Thieves: The pirate "Queen" Pauha, who leads a massive fleet with her brother, the powerful mage Enahar, in Tris's Book.
  • 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.
  • Meta Power: Sandry turns out to have an apparently-unique ability to directly manipulate magic itself, which is how she spun the four children's magics together in the thread circle.
  • 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 scuffle but 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. Though this could be a subversion, as it's immediately implied she only said this to make Rosethorn drink the tea without further complaint.
  • 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 meantime, 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. He was also the only main male protagonist she'd ever written until the announcement of The Numair Chronicles in the Tortall Universe.
  • 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.
  • Preserve 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. Nor is it even unambiguously at that point that they are lovers.
  • Ragtag Bunch of 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 is a misfit to society, belonging to a rough-and-tumble street gang, and even among them has a soft spot for plants that would get him ridiculed by the other urchins if he ever said anything about it out loud. 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; while other weather mages exist who listen to winds, ones whose powers extend to all aspects of weather are much rarer).
  • Shout-Out: A small one in Sandry's Book. Sandry briefly mentions her growing powers can work on straw too because you can spin straw.
  • Siblings in Crime: The two pirate leaders from Tris's Book, "Queen" Pauha and her chief mage Enahar.
  • Sitting on the Roof: One window of Discipline opens onto the roof, which the four kids take advantage of. They also, occasionally, stash pillows on the roof of Rosethorn's workshop, letting them drop safely from the roof to the workshop to the ground.
  • Sliding Scale of Divine Intervention: In this series, there are various gods and religions, with the one that the main characters either follow or interact with being the Living Circle religion. However, it is not made clear if the gods don't exist, or if they do but don't do anything.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In Briar's Book, Tris and Niko have to investigate the city's Absurdly Spacious Sewer. Standard fantasy fare... except that they go in wearing protective gear and both of them freak out at having to wade through knee-deep human waste with unseen lumps occasionally colliding with their boots. Niko, being tall, has to stoop over.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Yarrun is proven to be this in Daja's Book. Rosethorn warns him that by stopping so many little fires, the brush on the ground has gathered and will trigger a huge blaze. He dismisses her because she's teaching a bunch of mages that have abilities that no one else can replicate. Then she's proven right, and he tries to stop the giant firestorm by sheer effort; it ends up killing him.
  • Unique Protagonist Asset:
    • Sandry's ability to "spin magic", which allowed her to combine the four's magic. It was that blending that turned them from four powerful but not abnormal mages to the unprecedented prodigies they become for the rest of the series. Not to mention their ability to mindspeak to each other, share power, and do several other interesting tricks.
    • In Magic Steps, that ability is the reason why Sandry, and only Sandry, can take on the unmage. Unmagic is the absence of true magic, so only Sandry or another unmage could counter the Dihanurs' unmage.
  • 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.