Mark Reads ‘Briar’s Book’: Chapter 12

In the twelfth chapter of Briar’s Book, I will not forgive any of you for this ordeal. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Circle of Magic. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and disease.

I’ve generally thought that Tamora Pierce handles suspense well. I mean, I also think that she can read my mind and she knows exactly how to terrify me and break my heart and make me laugh. That is something we should discuss at some point. But suspense works well when the reader knows the stakes, and can reasonably suspect that there isn’t going to be a happy ending. That sense of doubt is not easy to ensure. Most of us, as readers, are picky, attentive, and hyper-aware of the tropes that are often used to build tension. We know that things might be a little scary, but the heroes win in the end. The problems are solved. The protagonists are victorious.

So how do you challenge that? How do you get your readers to suddenly doubt the certainty they stand on? I admit that part of my doubt for Rosethorn’s fate comes from sheer experience. This is my twenty-first book by Pierce that I’ve read, and while many of them contained tropes that were familiar, I have been repeatedly embarrassed and broadsided by a number of plot twists that have left me screaming or crying (or both!) on camera. This is not an author who writes stories with safety in mind. I mean, can we talk about the Trickster duology? Or the horrible twist at the end of the Beka Cooper books? Or the absolutely heart-wrenching, upsetting things in the Protector of the Small quartet?

I mentioned this in the last review, but it’s even more relevant here: there is no doubt in my mind that Pierce would kill off Rosethorn. Characters I’ve believed to be safe were not safe before, and this particular series has been far more upsetting than the first series set in the Tortall universe. (Which I suspect is part of the reason these feel “better” to me in terms of writing/story than the Song of the Lioness books; Pierce had gotten plenty of experience with her first two quartets.) Wouldn’t Rosethorn’s death fit the arc of the book? Wouldn’t it make sense that this quartet ends with the death of a major character? And look, I hated thinking that as I read this chapter. Any sign of hope was quickly crushed in this narrative. Rosethorn’s notes? Helpful, but not any sort of “answer,” at least not one that would provide an immediate cure. Sure, Crane was adjusting to the work in a way that made him incredibly easy to tolerate, but that didn’t make me comforted by the story, you know?

And then Henna dies, and it’s clear that the people of the Winding Circle are vulnerable. We knew that already, since Rosethorn got sick, but an actual death? It’s not long after this that Rosethorn stops providing notes to Crane, and that signifies a horrible progress: the fever has gotten bad enough that Rosethorn can’t think clearly. That’s the game that Pierce plays with us: One step forward, four billion steps back. Oh, we get the team finding two more keys towards unlocking a cure for blue pox? Guess what, ROSETHORN NOW HAS DARK SPOTS. The team finds half the keys needed? Well, now Rosethorn is jumping from topic to topic, her mind skipping in a feverish haze. A lovely scene where Rosethorn talks about how she and Crane became friends and rivals? Let’s follow that up with this:

She was about to try her work again when Rosethorn muttered something.

“What is it?” asked Daja. “Or are you walking in dreams again?”

“My boy. You three girls – look after Briar. When I’m gone.”

The thing is, Rosethorn is not the kind of person to admit any sort of defeat. Could this have been because of the fever? Sure, but that’s not where my mind went. I believed that Rosethorn was closer than ever before to death. I knew, then, that this was a race against time and nothing more. Dedicate Crane and the others had to find a cure as quickly as possible. Even if Rosethorn was powerful herself, and even though she was loved and cared for as much as we see in this chapter, none of this meant that they could stop the fever, which was the one thing that killed practically everyone who had the blue pox.

So of course this is when LITERAL DAYS pass in a matter of pages, all while the Temple mages work hard to use their 36 keys to come up with the right combination to cure the most people based on gender and age. (The science of that was pretty damn cool, y’all.) Like, this felt so impossible to me. How could you possibly get the right combination of SO MANY INGREDIENTS??? Y’all, the permutations alone made my brain hurt, and somehow, these people still had to do this.

I think y’all can understand why I had such a teary-eyed jolt of fear when I got to this part:

Several hours before dawn, Little Bear’s yapping roused everyone.

I believed it had happened. I totally and completely believed that this was it, that Rosethorn had passed and Little Bear was freaking out because of it, and THIS IS WHAT ALL OF YOU HAVE DONE TO ME. Will I forget that moment of terror? No. No, I shall not, and I will channel it into my own work, and I am going to make y’all pay for this.

Phew, at least this happened:

”Enough!” Rosethorn’s voice was a sandpaper-rough growl. “The next one who… who peers at me is going to die in a dreadful way! Either come in or stay out!”

Daja blinked, then murmured, “Stay out,” and retreated.

Briar sighed. “Ah, the sweet birds of spring,” he said blissfully. “I hear their glorious song.”

That’s about all the sign I need that Rosethorn is getting better. HER ENDLESS ANGER GIVES ME LIFE.

The original text contains use of the word “mad.”

Mark Links Stuff

- Please support the CrossingsCon IndieGogo to help get a Young Wizards convention started in 2016! If the fundraiser reaches $7,000, I’ll be the Guest of Honor. FOR REAL.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– The 2015 Mark Does Stuff tour is being announced!!! Please check my Tour Dates/Appearances page often to see if I’m coming to your city!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Briar's Book, Circle of Magic, Emelan and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.