Mark Reads ‘The Will of the Empress’: Chapter 1

In the first chapter of The Will of the Empress, THIS WAS TOO PAINFUL OF A START. HOW DARE YOU. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Will of the Empress.

Trigger Warning: For talk of PTSD, poverty, and homelessness.



It’s amazing to me to read this a second time and realize that Pierce totally lulled me into thinking this would be a happy, joyous reunion. SHE ABSOLUTELY DOES THIS. It was smart of her to open The Will of the Empress with Sandry because she’s the character who is the most optimistic. We can see that here as she eagerly awaits her foster-siblings return to Emelan, fretting over her financial situation and her sixteenth party. On the whole, though? There are no real problems here. She provides the readers with a framework for the story to come, and like Sandry, we eagerly anticipate the return of people that are beloved to us.



God, I was just so excited to read a book set in Emelan with ALL of the characters in it at once. SO EXCITED. Like Sandry, Daja was ecstatic to return home to Emelan and Discipline and see her teachers and Little Bear and all of these wonderful things and people we’ve come to know and adore and everything is going to be a giant party of friendship and love and –

Frostpine was shaking his head. “My dear, if you four still needed a firm education, we might be able to make a case, at least until you earned a medallion as the adult mages do,” he said quietly. “But the fact is that you have your mage’s medallion. As these things are measured, you were considered to be adult mages when you recieved them, fit to practice and to teach. Of course, you were too young to live on your own then. But now? Unless you are prepared to give you vows to the gods of the Living Circle, you will not be permitted to stay at Discipline.”




It’s at this exact point that The Will of the Empress transforms. I don’t actually question a bit of what Pierce does here, despite that it is relentlessly uncomfortable and disappointing. I don’t mean that in the worst sense imaginable, either. I came into this book hoping that the circle of friendship would be reunited, and I expected it to be a painless and celebratory thing. So my disappointment, while a stinging experience, has nothing to do with bad writing on Pierce’s part. It’s about my expectations and desires.

This is a better story than a happy reunion. Each of these four teenagers have gone through some fairly horrific things. And each of them comes from a background that made them disagreeable in The Circle of Magic books anyway, you know? Them fighting and bickering with one another is not new by any means, so this does not come out of nowhere.

It doesn’t make it hurt any less. In Daja’s case, the rejection is so painful because it feels uniquely personal to her. After having been ostracized from the Traders, she came to find a home in Discipline. It’s utterly understandable that the loss of Discipline would cause her to shut down and fear for her own future. I empathize with that, too, because I know how fragile one’s living situation can be. I mean, Daja’s behavior here is exactly what I did earlier this year and is why I’m now living in Los Angeles for the time being. Despite that I gained some comfort up in the Bay Area for five years, I sensed that it was time for life to throw me another curveball. I’ve never had a steady sense of a home until I moved up there, and when it all fell apart? I did everything I could to get something that was as permanent as a home could be. Initially, I thought that would be in New York City, but when those plans fell through, I decided that a cheaper apartment in a city I was quite familiar with was a better option.

When you lack stability for so long, you crave it. So I get why Daja did what she did here. I get why she closed herself off to her foster sister, why she didn’t want to feel like a charity case, and why she wanted nothing more than a sense of independence. Daja had had everything in her life taken from her years ago, and she could not weather another disaster where it was all taken from her again. Do I think she and Sandry will fight for the remainder of this book? No, not at all. I think with time and familiarity, they’ll all relax around one another.

More on that at the end.


I also appreciate that Tris’s perspective here touches on another aspect that the other foster siblings wouldn’t innately understand. Look, I’m at a point in my life where I have some sense of consistency when it comes to money. I’m still in debt from the three moves I made in April and May and from tour in Europe, but I know that there’s something coming in every week, and I can pay most of my bills every month. I don’t have the best safety net in the universe, and money issues still plague my anxiety, but I’ve certainly been in worse situations. I know this. I am aware that amidst all of this, I’m still able to have some pretty gnarly and incredible experiences while traveling the world.

And yet, I’ll always relate to what Tris experiences here when she arrives at her new home:

They look like the world is theirs, she thought bleakly, rocking back on the worn heels of her boots. And isn’t it? Daja could afford this house, from all her work in living metal. Sandry’s rich. When Briar comes back – if he comes back – he’ll be rich, too, from working with miniature trees. I’m the poor one. I’ll never belong here like they do.

Now, we know that Daja and Sandry are hardly in a state of euphoria or stability. While you could read that as a flawed perspective of Tris’s, I think it speaks to a larger issue. The other three foster siblings will never have to stress about this specific problem. It’s an anxiety that settles under the skin, and it never leaves. You always question every single thing you purchase and weigh it against your own desires and your own needs. You never get comfortable with the idea that you’ll have money the next week. You never assume you’ll ever have nice things ever. And while these characters all have valid, important things they’re dealing with, it’s vital to name the things they are going through and acknowledge who isn’t affected by them.


OH GOD I MISSED EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING SO MUCH. Briar’s quiet adaptation felt so beautifully in character to me that I didn’t question anything about it. There’s something wonderful about that kind of familiarity in a work, you know? But Briar’s anger and fierce independence is still a part of who he is. But unlike the other foster siblings, Pierce wrote his story different. He’s the only character who had a major part of his life happen off the page. I have no idea what happened in Gyongxe, nor do I even know where that is. Pierce teases us with this story at first, and I didn’t think much of it. I simply thought Briar was referencing the last place that he and Rosethorn had visited before coming home.

But the signs of his discomfort and trauma were all over this. He’s the only character who spends time at Discipline, and it all feels wrong to him. That’s when the nightmare strikes him:

As he fell backs into his dreams, flames roared up around him, throwing nightmare shadows on his eyelids. In the distance, triumphant warriors shouted and people shrieked. The wind carried the scent of blood and smoke to his nostrils.

Burning carpets wrapped around him. Briar fought to get free while boulders shot from catapults smashed temple walls to rubble.

I thought this was some weird, dream-state vision of the future because… well, why would something so significant happen in the past? But it became painfully clear that Briar was suffering from PTSD, that whatever had happened to him in Gyongxe was THE LITERAL WORST THING EVER. And Briar, being who he is, is unwilling to talk about it to anyone except for Rosethorn. Even then? It’s like pulling teeth. Thus, like each of the other Discipline students, he closes himself off to the circle of friendship.

The Circle Reunited

The first chapter closes with all four characters finally reunited, and it is an awkward mess. As it should be, I might add. These four people are drastically different than they used to be, but not to a point where they’re strangers. Their experiences have forced them to grow into adults, so to speak, and that means they’re going to have varied ways of looking at the world. At the very least, it seems that Daja and Sandry are getting along better, and as I said earlier, I think that time will help repair the conflicts we see here.

But this is not a saccharine reunion. These four people annoy and irritate each other. They fear rejection from one another. They desire different things and they have different aspirations. I think Daja puts it best:

“Things change,” Daja said softly. “We change with them. We sail before the wind. We become adults. As adults, we keep our minds and our secrets hidden, and our wounds. It’s safer.”


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

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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