Briar’s Book: A fantastic YA read

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Tamora Pierce Briar's Book Circle of MagicBriar’s Book by Tamora Pierce

Briar’s Book, the last book in the Circle of Magic quartet (also published as The Healing in the Vine) is perhaps one of Tamora Pierce’s best novels. Unlike her other series, which deal with battles, magic, fantasy creatures, revolution and politics, Briar’s Book centers something very mundane by comparison: a plague. Yet Pierce incorporates within the story all her powerful themes of love and friendship, pain and suffering, grief and hope, and humanity’s capabilities for both good and evil that make her one of the best YA fantasy writers out there.

Briar Moss (who is unique among the cannon of Pierce’s books considering he is her only male protagonist thus far) has spent almost a year at Discipline Cottage, Winding Circle and out of all of the young mages gathered there, he has changed the most. Once a street rat that picked pockets for a living, he is now happily installed in the temple community, under the tutelage of Rosethorn in the art of growing and maintaining plants. He loves Sandry, Tris and Daja as if they were his sisters, and enjoys the material benefits that the community provides him with.

One afternoon, when accompanying Rosethorn into Summersea to restock supplies at Urda’s House (a hospital for the poor), Briar is called away by his old street friends. Following them down into the sewers he discovers his particular friend Flic is seriously ill. After informing Rosethorn the situation escalates, and soon Briar finds himself in quarantine at Urda’s house as more and more patients of the Blue Pox are brought in. Whilst Briar and Rosethorn tend the sick in the city with minimal supplies and little help, the Winding Circle community are doing their best to find a cure and replenish the medicines available.

But the death toll keeps rising and no one seems to be any closer in discovering a cure. When a way of identifying the disease is finally discovered, Briar is finally allowed to return home — only for one of his nearest and dearest to get the Pox…

Pierce is excellent in creating the growing despair and panic of the city, the claustrophobia of Briar in quarantine, and the frantic efforts of Winding Circle’s healers. As well as this is Briar’s inner struggles; both with the patients and with his growing reluctance to spend time in the grime and muck of his former life. Pierce is always good at capturing human emotion and thought, and here she is at her peak. Throughout the course of the story there are many moments of insight into the human mind during this crisis — but for me to describe them here wouldn’t be doing them justice. Some readers may be frustrated at the slow pace and lack of magical components that usually make up Pierce’s books, but the patient reader will be justly rewarded.

The bond between the four children and their teachers is palatable, and you can really feel their pain at their separation, and the joy of their reunion. Things as small as a hug, a smile or a hand holding up a bowl for their loved one to vomit into is how Pierce captures their affection for each other — and which all capture more meaning than any long-winded speeches about friendship and loyalty that other author’s write. Especially touching is the bond between Briar and his stern and bad-tempered teacher Rosethorn — but I’ll let you discover that for yourself. A fantastic read all around.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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