Tamora Pierce,
Briar's Book
(Scholastic, 1999)

Tamora Pierce closes her Circle of Magic quartet with Briar's Book.

He was once a street thief called Roach, living by his wits until he got caught one too many times. Sentenced to grueling labor, he was reprieved by Niko Goldeneye, mage of Winding Circle Temple. Now he's a student of the gruff woman Rosethorn, who, with another woman named Lark, takes care of Briar and the other residents of Discipline cottage. Briar helps Rosethorn tend the garden, and while she teaches him how to develop his plant magic. He respects and loves her, and the reader often suspects that the feeling is mutual.

With the other young mages-in-training, Sandry, Tris and Daja, he has withstood earthquakes, pirate attacks, drought and wildfire as the four of them have bonded together into an interconnected circle. They can communicate with each other without speaking, and can combine and share their magic to a certain extent. The three girls and Rosethorn and Lark as the closest thing to a family that Briar has.

But Briar hasn't forgotten where he came from, and when in the nearby city of Summersea, he likes to hang out with several of the street kids. One day, though, he finds that one of his friends, a girl named Flick, is seriously ill. He calls on Rosethorn to help, but the illness is not isolated to Flick. Before Briar knows it, he and Rosethorn are at the center of a deadly epidemic. Worse, it's a new disease and as yet there's no cure. Briar and Rosethorn join in on the work to find a cure, but then the worst imaginable disaster strikes, threatening to tear apart Briar's world.

Pierce closes this series with a bang; Briar's Book is tautly paced, and the suspense builds in waves, a steadily growing series of crises. She conveys well the stress and tension of the characters, and their responses to the situation are authentic.

The characters continue to be well-developed and appealing; Pierce resists easy transformations, quick fixes and manipulative sentimentality. Her characters grow and change naturally and gradually. There are no reversals or sudden changes in personality; rather, the reader sees the subtle growth process. Briar is more disciplined and more mature than when he first comes to Winding Circle, but his development is convincing.

Those who are sorry to see the quartet draw to a close should be happy to learn that Magic Steps, the first book in a second quartet at Winding Circle Temple, is due out in June 2000.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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