Mark Reads ‘Street Magic’: Chapter 12

In the twelfth chapter of Street Magic, WHAT HAS THIS BOOK BECOME? Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.

Trigger Warning: For talk of violence, gangs.

fuck. FUCK.

He wanted the scent of the lady’s house off his skin. He didn’t know why, but the place given him the crawls. It was as if he’d been asked an important question while he wasn’t listening.

I don’t want to know the answer, he told himself as he nudd his horse through the gate.

NO. NO, YOU DON’T, BRIAR MOSS. TAKE EVVY AND RUN FAR, FAR AWAY. Y’all, this is one of my favorite ways to build suspense because IT’S SO FRUSTRATINGLY FUN. The author lets us in on a secret, and then consistently teases us with the possibility of the characters catching up to the audience. We know exactly why Briar is experiencing this sensation, and then Tamora Pierce goes and makes it A BILLION TIMES WORSE.

But before that happens, Pierce takes us through a fascinating sequence between Briar and a number of the Vipers who used to be Camelguts. I appreciate that there’s a nuance to Pierce’s invocation of gang life because… well, it’s a complicated thing. I know that I addressed how gang life affected me growing up in Southern California, but the truth is that I was always an outlier. I was collateral damage. I never was in a gang, though plenty of my friends were. They often spoke of what the Vipers reference here and in previous chapters: that gang life provided them with the comfort of camaraderie and loyalty that normal life did not provide them with. Most of these people had come from broken homes, grew up in violence and substance abuse, and had been dealt horrific hands by fate. They were part of an oppressed class or multiple oppressed classes, and the deck was stacked against them. Gang life gave them an advantage they otherwise would not have gotten.

At the same time, exploitation was a part of their lives, too. There was systemic exploitation, of course, but these people were often preyed upon by those who were older and had more power. I think that at the heart of it, that’s what Briar is so upset about. He knows that Lady Zenadia is not the savior that Ikrum and the others claim she is. She may be providing them with some sort of temporary reprieve from their daily drudgery; she might appear to care about them; she might seem to be the real thing. But Briar’s right! They are all a means to an end:

“Now, rethink your life, before she takes it from you and leaves you on a garbage heap.” He thrust a foot into one stirrup and mounted his horse. “Because you aren’t one of hers, you’re just a thing to be used.” Briar surveyed the other Vipers. “And you’re a bunch of sheep if you let him do it.”

Pierce follows this with a memory of Briar’s, which I found significant because it was relevant to his fear of exploitation. He’s so sensitive and irritated about this because the Thief Lord did the same thing to him. He manipulated events to make Briar feel like he needed the Thief Lord, and then he pulled him in. Isn’t that precisely what Lady Zenadia is doing? She had her Vipers attack the Camelguts, then approached them to offer a better way of life. Which they wouldn’t have needed in the first place if she hadn’t orchestrated the murder of their friends!

So, look: this is a lot to process. This whole book is deeply complex and layered, and it’s one of the many reasons it’s so satisfying. Still, I thought I had it all figured out. I was certain I had a grasp on the story and where it was headed, and then Tamora Pierce cackled from her throne made of our solidified tears.

One of the men ahead rode forward until he was a yard from Briar. “Pahan Briar Moss of Winding Circle temple and Summersea in Emelan,” he intoned in a wooden voice. “You are invited to speak with Mutabir Kemit doen Polumri. At once.”

Okay. Okay. So, what could they possibly want from him? He hadn’t committed a crime. Had he done something wrong in the souk? When he arrived at the mutabir’s place, I was a little shocked because what could he have done to deserve the attention of a mage or the presence of a scribe?


The head of the Watch detachment came to attention and said, “This youth, who our contact says is a pahan named Briar Moss, an eknub from Summersea, came to the house of Lady Zenadia doa Attaneh this morning, Lord Mutabir, as did the pahan Jebilu Stoneslicer. This youth was inside the house for a period of two hours, in the matter of a miniature tree. When he left the house, w followed our orders and conveyed him to you. Pahan Jebilu remains at the house.”

I think it speaks to how well Pierce has conveyed Briar’s characterization that I know how fucked up it is that Briar was spied on for days – weeks, even! – without once suspecting it. It’s a credit to Pierce’s writing, but it’s also a brilliant way to change the dynamic of the story. Like I mentioned before, the ticking time bomb of suspense has gotten worse because of this. The mutabir has heard rumors of Lady Zenadia’s deeds and suspects he lost four insiders to her. But because the nobility is so vital to Chammuran culture, he can’t just accuse her of a crime without proof.

There’s a delicate dance that takes place, then, between the world of Chammuran upper-class politics and Briar’s dual nature. He has to fight his own desire to be snappy and witty – picked up from his time at Discipline – while also keeping himself alive and safe. I love that Briar’s past always matters to him, you know? So as he speaks with the mutabir about Zenadia, he balances between these two words. At times, he’s more like the street rat he once one:

He had survived ten years by smiling, bowing, agreeing, mouthing “your highnesses” to anyone and everyone, and running the moment a chance was offered.

Which is challenging, though, because of the presence of Pahan Guardsall. The truthsayer is abrupt and cold to Briar, but not necessarily out of a desire to be a jerk. I got the sense that Guardshall was fiercely loyal and interested in pretty much one thing: the truth. And what a perfect job for her to have! So when the mutabir dismissed everyone from the room except for Guardsall and Briar, it was clear that this was a DEEPLY serious conundrum. In a way, I felt like Guardshall and the mutabir warmed up to Briar, but only out of necessity.

That’s sort of the problem, of course. These people, as well meaning as they might have been, still viewed others as means to an end. I think that’s largely due to their class status. They’re so used to being able to think of those below them as abstract ideas that it’s arresting to have Briar refuse to be that for them. They view gang violence as “hardly of concern.” They’re mystified as to why Briar would deny Evvy a chance to live with Lady Zenadia. They call it an “opportunity.” And what’s so galling to me (yet entirely unsurprising) is that they’re telling Briar that Evvy lost an opportunity just seconds after telling him that they suspect she’s murdering people and making the corpses disappear. It never even occurs to them that these two realities might conflict in any way.

So it’s also no surprise to any of you that I was utterly pleased by Briar’s refusal to send Evvy to Lady Zenadia. Seriously, bless this kid so much. I love that he refuses to ignore where he came from. It’s part of who he is. It’s unfortunate that I know far too many people who grew up in poverty and misery alongside me in Riverside, only to get older, get some money and power, and then immediately turn against the very group of people they once belonged to. Briar Moss is not one of those people, and he fights so ferociously for Evvy because he refuses to abandon her. He knows what it’s like to be abandoned, you know? So he invokes Rosethorn’s name as an attempt to threaten THE HEAD OF THE WATCH IN CHAMMUR. I just… he’s so great, y’all! I respect how much he cares about this girl, who hasn’t had all that much love or affection in her life.

I’m also frightened because this book is clearly leading up to something, and I still don’t know what it is. DAMN IT.

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

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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