Sandry’s Book, Book 1 of Circle of Magic “quartet”
by Tamora Pierce
Published by Scholastic, 1997, 252 pages
Worldview: Moral, secular. Teamwork and loyalty are primary values. There is no evil bad guy.
Three girls and a boy, all around the age of 12, are followed in separate stories that converge. They live in a different world, on that has very strong class and tribal boundaries. The four youngsters are from different classes and tribes that normally do not get along. They are gathered by a mage, Niko, who gets premonitions and goes looking for certain pupils for his school at Winding Temple. The four kids will become mages, or sorcerers. They are chosen by Niko because they have some innate magical abilities, which need training.
As the story unfolds, the four kids, including Sandry, the child from the noble class, learn to get along with each other and to begin to control their magic powers. The antagonists are mostly other children who behave in cruel ways. For the climax of the book, the antagonist is an earthquake. The four are trapped underground in a cave during this earthquake. They work together, weaving their magics and strengthening each other, and are able to protect and save themselves. There are three further books, each named for one of the other of the four kids.
This book is eleven years old now, and received a number of awards in its day. I am reviewing it because this series is something my son picked up at the library and likes to read and re-read.
My first reaction to reading this book was confusion. I had great difficulty keeping the four kids’ separate stories straight. I think having four completely developed points of view is just too many for the reader to develop a bond with them, at least for the first third of the book. I was very tempted to put the book down and not pick it up again.
This book has some similarities to the Harry Potter books. But this book was published before Harry Potter. The similarities are a school for kids with special magical abilities, a mage in charge of the school who seeks out prospective pupils, a close group of kids who work together using magic, and some bully behavior on the part of other kids. The differences have the antagonist at the root. Pierce’s antagonist is really circumstance or just human meanness manifested in various ways. Rowling’s antagonist is of course Voldemort, who is one of the baddest bad guys of all literature. In my opinion, Pearce’s flimsy antagonist creates a slight tale. Rowling’s towering antagonist creates a hefty tale.
As for my opinion as a Christian, I think this book belittles religion, because it describes some various tribal religious customs that are clearly envisioned as gestures just to make the individual feel good. Pierce, along with so many others, clearly has no idea that there really is a deity out there. However, this book promotes loyalty and teamwork, along with discouraging stealing, so it isn’t in actual conflict with my values. A worldview discussion would be in order with young readers of this book.–Phyllis Wheeler