Tamora Pierce,
Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book
(Scholastic, 1997)

Tamora Pierce established herself as an original voice in young adult high fantasy with her Song of the Lioness fantasy cycle about Alanna, the young woman who wants to be a knight. Her Circle of Magic quartet is pitched toward a somewhat younger readership, upper middle grades or junior high rather than teens, and Sandry's Book is the first title in the cycle.

Four very different young people are rescued from what seem to be hopeless situations and brought to Winding Circle temple, a place for education and for magic. Sandry is the daughter of a lord and lady who died in a smallpox epidemic and has a gift for working with thread. Tris is a merchant's daughter shunted from place to place by a family who doesn't want her, and the weather does strange things around her. Briar, a street thief spared from the mines after his third arrest, has a way with plants, and Daja, outcast from the Trader community, already held suspect by most of the population, can command metal to her will. Their rescuer is a mage, Niko Goldeneye and he, along with Lark and Rosethorn, the women who supervise them, becomes their mentor and their friend.

Things don't go too smoothly to begin with. Tris is dour and snappish, and Briar trusts no one. Sandry's attempts at friendliness are rebuffed, and Daja is deep in mourning, both for her family, dead in a shipwreck, and for her outcast status because of that wreck. (She is considered bad luck because she survived.) Eventually, though, they grow into a community, a "circle," which stands them in good stead when a crisis strikes.

Pierce creates likeable appealing characters with very individual and realistic personalities. She places them in a taut, cleanly written plot. Each event builds on the one before it; nothing is wasted. Although the book is supposed to be "Sandry's," it really sets the stage for the rest of the quartet, and most readers won't care whether Sandry is the main character featured.

Hm. A group of young people at a school where they learn about how to use magical powers -- sound familiar? This might be the ticket for young readers awaiting the next Harry Potter adventure!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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