In the third chapter of Magic Steps, Sandry helps the Duke with a murder investigation. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, gore, and blood, as well as a discussion of race and misogyny/mansplaining.
Is this a closed-room murder mystery? WITH MAGIC??? Sign me up again.
The Murder Scene
Oh, Sandry. I don’t know why I always get so shocked whenever one of Tamora Pierce’s books gets immensely violent and disturbing, but I think it’s because I allow myself to be lulled into the cuteness of certain things and then BAM. It’s over. Over.
In this specific case, I was overwhelmed by Sandry’s devotion to her great-uncle and utterly amused by the reputation she’d created by demonstrating said love. After introducing EVEN MORE CHARACTERS OF COLOR, Pierce drops one of my favorite flashback stories EVER:
Kwaben and Oama traded looks. They had hear her say that only once, on the day of the duke’s heart attack, when his servants had tried to keep Sandry out of his room. After she had lost precious minutes in argument with them, she had finally insisted, in just that tone of voice. When they refused, every thread in the hall outside the duke’s rooms – from tapestries, carpets, and even the servants’ clothes – unraveled and came to life, cocooning them all. Sandry had gone to her uncle and had spent the rest of that day with the healers, keeping him alive with her magic until they could strengthen his heart. Kwaben and Oama had never forgotten it.
Sandry. Sandry. I know that she’s curious about what’s inside the Rokat house, but she also genuinely cares about her great-uncle, and she knows he’ll work himself to death – literally – if she’s not there to remind him to rest, to let other people handle work that needs to be done in Summersea. It fills me with a great amount of feelings, y’all.
(A note about writing characters of color: I would be wary to use either animals or food to describe people of color, two things Pierce does here. Both of them are one-offs – at least so far – and I wouldn’t say that their characterization is based on either description. Kwaben is likened to a panther, and a later character is given “almond-shaped eyes.” Even without any ill intent, both of these could be potentially disastrous in your text. I would highly recommend checking out Writing With Color’s guides – Part I, Part II – that give further explanation on the food trope, which should also help you extrapolate why using animal descriptors is very, very risky.)
So, I was lost in that, thinking about Sandry’s relationship with her great-uncle, and I was not ready for the brutality of the murder scene. Now, I won’t go into details here because I don’t want to trigger folks who can’t deal with gore and blood, so you can turn to the book for that stuff. But the sheer absurdity of violence in that room suggests rage and fury. Why else would you do something like that to someone? At the same time, once Sandry gets access and is able to see the magic in the room, it’s clear that someone had to have known about Rokat’s protective spells in order to not set them off. And not just the ones in his room, but on the roof, too! So who in his close circle of confidants knew about those spells? That seems like the next avenue of investigation.
Too bad that Sandrilene fa Toren: Private Eye could not continue because of MANSPLAINING.
Captain Qais crossed his arms. “Begging your pardon, your ladyship, but you are versed in weaving and needlework. We have mages who know just this kind of thing, magic used by criminals and magic used to keep criminals out. They will be able to explain. And I still think those guards will talk plenty once they’re sweated.”
Now, this is probably a more subtle example than most, and I understand that there really are experts who do this stuff every day. But he still refers to her work as “weaving and needlework,” and that is a deliberate attempt to characterize what she does as some sort of womanly pursuit that has nothing to do with the magic at hand. WELL, BOO TO THAT, I SAY. I want my locked-room murder mystery with Sandry, and I want Pasco to dance his way to victory.
I WANT IT.
Well, I already want a lot of things from this book. First of all, I want to know what’s going on with all the rest of the Winding Circle characters. I miss them! (You have to remember I finished Briar’s Book over a month ago, so I honestly feel like it’s been forever. Granted, I didn’t have to wait years between books, but STILL.) I want a million scenes with the Acalon family because IT’S A HUGE FAMILY OF CRIME FIGHTERS WHO TRAIN TOGETHER and they’re basically like superheroes? I wanted a real sweet training montage at this point because it would clearly be perfect, you know? Like the relationship between Duke Vedris and Sandry, you can see a comfort and affection between the members of the Acalon family, particularly between Zahra and her son, Pasco. It’s going to be heartbreaking, then, if he ultimately does choose not to become a harrier. I could tell from the long section in this chapter that the Acalons take their profession seriously. Not only that, but it’s like a lifestyle to all of them. Their schedules revolve around patrols and training! How could Pasco even begin to defy that?
There’s a glimpse of an answer here, though. The catch that afternoon is massive, Pasco is paid FIVE silver crescents, and he’s referred to as a mage. They’re little moments to us, but to Pasco? They’re huge. Life-ending, potentially. He’s not interested in this sort of life, you know? Even if he had entertained becoming something that wasn’t a harrier, he’d never share that with anyone, especially not Sandry. I do appreciate that Sandry was able to recognize that he was frightened by the prospect of this possible future, and she didn’t push it any further. But given how magic can chaotically manifest in Emelan, Pasco can’t ignore this forever, can he? He’s going to have to deal with it inevitably. I just hope he’s got someone with him to help him with that.
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