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The Will of the Empress is the ninth book in Tamora Pierce's Circleverse, and the first not to be part of a subseries. It was first published in 2005.
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The four protagonists have been apart for years, as Briar, Tris and Daja went on long journeys with their teachers while Sandry stayed in Summersea. However, their long time apart and the things they have experienced mean they find themselves arguing, unable to reconnect like they all expected.

Sandry has been invited to Namorn by her cousin, Empress Berenene, to visit the imperial court and the estates she has long avoided. Her great-uncle, Duke Vedris, suggests she take her friends with her, so they will have time to reforge their bond. But the four are walking into a trap: Berenene wants their powerful magic bent to her service, and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep them there.


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Tropes:

  • Abdicate the Throne: In a non-royal variant, Sandry signs over the Landreg estates and title to her cousin Ambros, who had already been looking after them anyway, so Berenene has no more control over her.
  • Abduction Is Love: It's a Namornese tradition to kidnap women in order to marry them, which Sandry is horrified to learn about. It started as a mutual agreement for young couples who wanted to marry but faced parental disapproval, or a way to "spice up" marriage vows, but has since become quite ugly. A lot of men are sure their new wives will come around eventually, but of course many don't. When she was a princess, Berenene escaped from would-be abductors, and is noted to be unsympathetic to unwilling brides who didn't escape like she did. Sandry foils one abduction attempt by magically disrobing the perpetrators. Later on, when Shan and Fin kidnap her... it ends badly. For them.
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  • Artistic License – Biology: Sandry's family is revealed to breed mules. A mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey, and they're always sterile, meaning you can't actually breed them in family lines the way something like horse breeding works. This has led to a theory that they actually use magic to create fertile mules. Alternately, "breed" could have been a shorthand for their having found the best horse-donkey combos for ideal mules, but that's less fun than wacky magic.
  • Badass in Distress: As previously noted, Sandry (a powerful mage) is kidnapped by Shan and Fin with the intent to force her to marry one of them. Thanks to her magical bond with her foster siblings, the others are able to come to her rescue.
  • Big Damn Heroes: After Fin abducts Sandry, she calls Briar for help, so he calls Tris to help him get Sandry from a secret underground room. Tris literally blows the door open, scattering the guards and their gear, then holds them in place with lightning while Briar saunters in after her to free Sandry.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Zhegorz, first seen as an unnamed but helpful mental ward patient during the hospital fire in Cold Fire. 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.
    • Sandry's land property in Namorn is the source of her troubles, as the Empress wants to keep her in Namorn, and various Namornese nobles attempt to marry her (that is, force her into a marriage with them), all so they can have those lands for themselves. After Sandry and Tris suffer very badly from all this, Sandry decides to sign over her lands to her cousin Ambros.
  • The Bus Came Back: Zhegorz Fiavrus, who first appeared as the unnamed mental patient who helped Daja evacuate other mental patients during the hospital fire in Cold Fire, makes a surprise return in this book and plays a major role.
  • Butch Lesbian: Daja, the muscular blacksmith and least traditionally feminine of the girls, discovers she's gay when she gets into a brief relationship with Rizu.
  • Call-Back: In Magic Steps, it's established that every time Sandry says "I really must insist", she's about to use her magic to remove anyone and anything in her way. Here, Ambros tells Sandry that Empress Berenene is determined to make sure she and her inheritance remain in the empire. Sandry cheerfully says that Berenene seems reasonable, and when it comes time to leave, she's sure that she won't have to insist.
  • Conflict Ball: All over the place, as the four foster siblings all insist on taking just about everything the others say in the worst possible way. Especially annoying is that Briar's big reason for acting the way he does took place completely between books and isn't properly explained until a later prequel.
    • Partially explained in that they haven't been together for several years and are getting used to being together again. Little resentments abound. Sandry felt left behind when the others extended their travels. Sandry, Daja, and Briar are all wealthy now from their magic, while Tris scrapes by because she can't use her magic in a profitable, non-destructive way. Briar has PTSD and doesn't think the others would understand. They are all kicked out of Discipline, because they are grown adults and the cottage and temple are meant for students and those who've taken vows. Each also has dealt with death closely in some way, and no one wants to talk about it.
  • Courtly Love: Briar has this with Berenene for a bit. Lampshaded.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: After Briar and a jealous courtier get into a fight over Berenene's partiality for Briar, they tell the people who find them that their argument was over magic.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Sandry makes good use of this, but in a genuinely disabling manner. She undoes every single stitch on their bodies, from clothing to the leather on their armor — and at the suggestion of one of her guards, the tack on their horses to boot.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Ealaga's rebuttal to Ambros near the end. Replace "kidnap" with "rape" and note the resemblance to modern-day discussions about rape culture, not to mention all the Victim Blaming that Berenene engages in. Of course, Briar earlier explicitly calls abduction marriages rape.
    "Each time a man succeeds, we place our daughters and our sisters under new safeguards. We put their lives under new restrictions. We give them new signs that a man in whose company they find themselves might plan to kidnap them. Don’t we teach our women to view all men according to the actions of a few?"
  • Domestic Abuse: At Landreg, Sandry takes in and hires as her maid a woman, Gudruny, who had fled with her children from her abusive husband. Sandry then uses her authority as clehame to dissolve the marriage when the husband arrives.
  • Double Aesop: As Sandry, Daja and Briar prepare for the final fight, Sandry remarks “People shouldn’t always get what they want. It’s very bad for their character,” meaning Berenene's wish to keep them in Namorn. In the end Sandry realizes that her wish to keep her Namornese land, even after her clash with Berenene, is just as foolish, so she signs the land over to her cousin Ambros.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Berenene is absolutely furious when one of her courtiers attempts to abduct a bride under her roof - the women in her court are supposed to be safe while in her palace or her general vicinity.
  • Extended Disarming: Briar does this to intimidate an opponent. Daja helps by carrying on a casual conversation throughout.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: In addition to the Namornese address for mages, the titles used for various noble ranks (clehame/countess, saghad/baron) are used throughout. The glossary at the back says that each title actually translates to a type of weapon.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Droughtwort, first mentioned here. Briar uses it. A lot.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Empress Berenene seems charming, and has some genuine positive qualities and has done good for her country, but is still a ruthless monarch who is happy to subjugate others to her will. She also refuses to make bride-abducting illegal on the grounds of Victim Blaming.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Tris has taken to wearing dark-lensed glasses to give her some relief from the images she sees on the wind. Later, Zhegorz gets a pair of living metal glasses and earplugs that do the same for him.
  • Gold Digger: Several of the men courting and/or trying to abduct Sandry. It turns out House Landreg is absolutely loaded, and Berenene wants to pair Sandry off to a pliable courtier so that she'll have access to all that income.
  • Good Old Ways: "Horse-rump" marriages in Namorn, the nickname for marriage by abduction. In most cases it's done to spice up a relationship or as a way for a couple to elope. However, it can be inflicted on unwilling women as well, and even the Empress has had it tried on her twice. Local authorities tend to be very lenient when a punishment is required for it, as it's a tradition from the Empire's seed country.
    • The current regime largely allows it to continue due to the Empress' thought that should a woman not want to wed, she should simply escape like the Empress herself did, not taking into consideration that no one is going to seriously harm or manhandle reigning royalty, and dismissing the notion that the Empress was allowed ample opportunity to escape due to her status.
  • Growing Up Sucks: The central theme. 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.
  • Hand Wave: Anytime some apparently traditional/popular Namornese custom or style is mentioned in Empress, where it was absent in Cold Fire, it's explained as only being popular in the western part of the empire.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Near the end, all the kids abruptly adopt a nonsensical Not Now, Kiddo attitude to Zhegorz warning them about an upcoming kidnap attempt. Granted, they all profusely apologize afterwards.
  • Idle Rich: Sandry is forced to confront the uncomfortable truth that her parents were both selfish pleasure-seekers who didn't care a whit about properly managing their estate.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The fer Roths gambled away most of their estate. Shan went to the capital in the hopes that he could marry Berenene and gain access to her riches. Failing that, he tried wooing — and then abducting — Sandry instead.
  • I Owe You My Life: Rizu towards Berenene. Berenene saved her from an unwanted arranged marriage and gave her a powerful position, ensuring that she no longer had to rely on her family and could look for love as she chose. This is part of why she refuses to leave with Daja.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Rizuka fa Dalach, Wardrobe Mistress of the Empress of Namorn, is a lesbian.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Empress Berenene's goal is to get Sandry to stay in Namorn so that the sizable income from Sandry's estates goes into the imperial coffers and not Emelan's. She also wants the services of Sandry's friends (a powerful weather mage, smith mage, and garden mage) to strengthen her rule. In the end, Berenene does partially get what she wants as Sandry's only way to escape completely is to sign over her land and titles to her seneschal, but Tris, Daja, and Briar reject the offers of wealth and power and manage to get Sandry out of the country. Sandry isn't really losing any political power since her uncle wants to make her his heir in Emelan where she'll be unfettered by Berenene's rule, and now she and her powerful friends are Berenene's powerful enemies.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted. It's stated quite clearly that Rosethorn likes both women and men.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Comes in the form of a "fall down the stairs" curse that Ishabal uses on Tris. The description of the injuries and the other characters' horrified reactions to them (with the healers saying it's damn near miraculous she wasn't dead) is quite disturbing.
  • Noodle Incident: The four remember the time they tried alcohol. It ended with a barn being destroyed.
  • No Time to Explain: On the journey north, while the protagonists and the Trader caravan they're travelling with are fording a river, Tris suddenly starts using lightning to harry everyone into crossing and getting out of the valley they're in as soon as possible. Why? Because she was scrying on the wind and saw the dam upstream collapse.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Rather "not now, homeless semi-madman". Zhegorz gets this when he tries to report the things he's hearing and seeing on the winds, as the others assume that Tris sent him with them to keep him busy rather than as a genuine substitute for herself while she recovers from injuries.
  • Power Incontinence: It turns out that Zhegorz can see and hear things on the wind. Because of how rare a power this is, it's speculated to be why he was committed to an asylum in the first place.
  • Power Nullifier: When Shan and Fin abduct Sandry, they lock her in a box designed to prevent her from using her magic, which they got from Fin's mage uncle. However, it doesn't nullify Sandry's magical bond with her foster siblings, which allows her to alert them to her situation so they can come rescue her.
  • The Power of Friendship: Deconstructed; Sandry still wants it to apply, but they've grown older and had so many disparate experiences that they clash more often than not. Then it gets reconstructed.
  • Pretty Boy: Berenene keeps her court filled with handsome, young, unmarried men as ornaments and prospective lovers.
  • Sacred Hospitality: It's generally understood that men are not supposed to abduct their wives inside someone's halls, but only out in the open. Otherwise it's a deadly insult to the liege lord or lady, plus a severe embarrassment that shows they can't even protect someone in their own house.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: While travelling in the east, Briar (along with Rosethorn and Evvy) got caught in a war between Gyongxe and Yanjing. A major part of his issues in the book is remaining trauma from that war.
  • Smug Snake: Finlach. He's terribly smug when he abducts Sandry and tells her all about how she's going to give him an heir and that the Namornese know how to handle mage-wives, but he didn't reckon on her friends.
  • Standard Royal Court: Empress Berenene 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 adviser.
  • Staircase Tumble: Empress Berenene takes out Tris by having Ishabal magically causing Tris to fall down the stairs in a way that will seriously injure her without actually killing her.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: Apparently this is standard practice in Namorn when a man kidnaps a mage for his bride. Sandry winds up in a box filled with magic runes that unravel her power. (Fortunately, her abductor didn't realize that she had some non-thread magic from her link with her friends.)
    • Later, when Sandry is freed and demands justice from the Empress, the latter orders that the mage responsible be arrested and placed into "a cell for wizards". Those presumably can block a wide range of magic powers.
  • Take That!: Near the end, Sandry complains about the way men, in general, treat Namornese women (i.e. as property) after freeing Gudruny from an abusive forced marriage and escaping two attempts on herself. Ambros scolds her with, basically, "not all guys are like that"note . Ealaga retorts that by legally condoning this kind of misogyny, women have to assume that any man is a potential abductor and, in fact, even she and Ambros have taught their daughters this sort of caution. So instead of blaming women for resenting legally-sanctioned abuse, they should perhaps stop legally sanctioning abuse and thus remove the root cause of that resentment.
  • Tantrum Throwing:
    • 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.
    • After she is kidnapped and nearly forced into marriage, Sandry is understandably distraught. She's perfectly within her rights to be angry at the kidnapper, at the empress, and at the entire custom; what's not alright is the temper tantrum she throws at Daja for not coming to her rescue (she was having sexy-times, so had blocked off her mind), or angrily insinuating Rizu was in-on-it.
    • But given Rizu's loyalty and (platonic) love for Empress Berenene, and said Empress' mindset, it wouldn't be out of character at all. Especially if Berenene simply nudged things along to nurture Daja and Rizu's romance and simply made some time available note  for the two of them to get romantic, during a time frame when she knew it was likely that the abduction attempt would happen. Given that a successful kidnap-marriage would almost guarantee success towards keeping Sandry's estates accessible to her, and she wants to keep Sandry's mage-powerful friends in her court almost as much,it's exactly the sort of move that Empress Berenene would pull. And given that Daja does (or at least should) have known this, making herself unavailable for any reason, knowing that Sandry is in constant danger of imprisonment and rape, is a damn stupid thing to do. First love is wonderful... but when you're in hostile territory and surrounded by people who want to manipulate you and your family into giving away your choices, there are more important things in life than getting laid.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted, although with varying degrees of success.
    • Daja first met Zhegorz in the psych wing of a Namornese hospital, so mental health care exists — but in this case the treatment was likely making Zhegorz worse rather than better, since they misunderstood a major cause of his distress.
    • After seeing how afflicted Briar has become when the foster-siblings reunite, Tris insists on Briar seeing a "mind healer" for his PTSD.
  • 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 nice map at the front of the book labels the Canyon Inn as the place where Shan ambushes Sandry's group, which leads directly to the climax of the book. Not only were many fans displeased, there was absolutely no reason to add this excess info to the map.
    • The Booklist summary on the Amazon.com page for Empress revealed the plot twist that Daja likes girls. Surprise!
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The mimander of the Trader caravan the protagonists were travelling with takes the time to chew Tris out for her use of lightning to harry the caravan to get them out of a river valley afterward, since it seriously unnerved everyone present.
  • The X of Y: The Will of the Empress.


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