In the fifteenth chapter of Battle Magic, I didn’t think this could hurt more. I WAS WRONG. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Battle Magic.
Trigger Warning: For talk of warfare, body horror/gore, death, and grief.
I was not even remotely ready.
The Temple of the Tigers
WHERE DO I EVEN START??? Let’s first start with the tigers because HELLO, THEY ARE AMAZING:
One, painted orange with black stripes, snarled realistically at anyone who rode toward it. The other, carved of pure white stone with black stripes, looked as if the sculptor had caught it in midleap, forelegs and claws extended. Briar could even see every hair in the animals’ carved fur.
YES. YES. I WANT BOTH OF THESE TIGERS GUARDING MY INEVITABLE MANSION. We will be best friends, and all will be right with the world. We can even throw in some of those moving paintings full of the “little gods,” and can be like a more chaotic version of Hogwarts in my home. Right? There’s nothing terrible about this plan.
“Don’t worry, emchi youth,” she said, and offered him a bowl of butter tea. “Once you return to the thicker air down below, you will no longer see things. Whatever touched you was powerful. I can see its blaze all around you. Its power calls to the little gods whose doors are on our walls.”
OH. OH! Well, that makes a lot of sense. And given what Rosethorn experiences later in this same chapter, it helped me to get an idea of how powerful and weird this magic is. Honestly, aside from the emotional destruction at the end of this chapter, this whole thing rules so much because Tamora Pierce pitches us straight off the cliff into completely absurdity, and I love it. I love how strange so much of this is, and there’s no apology for it whatsover. IT IS WHAT IT IS.
Granted, it takes a while for us to get to the truly surreal shit. Prior to this, we’re treated to the first major battle between the Gyongxe forces and the Yanjingyi army. Like the last chapter, I found it rewarding to pick apart the asinine logic that the Yanjingyi used to justify their violence. A lot of it is in the language they use in addition to their behavior. There’s an air of class and royalty in their actions, but it’s meant to hide a horror in plain sight. (Thankfully, the head priestess sees through it in a second, and I loved that.) The messenger calls the general he represents “merciful,” when no one who murders on the level he does has the right refer to themselves as such. And check this:
“My master the general bids me to say, we hope to make our visit to your glorious temple a brief, peaceful affair. Give to us the smallest of tokens of your esteem for our lordly and puissant emperor. If you do so, we shall proclaim our desire for peace between our great empire and your gods, and leave here.”
These people don’t know what peace really is. They mean control. They mean submission. But as I just said, I love that the old priestess rejects this absurdity and speaks to the messenger in a direct manner that sounds like the polar opposite of how the Yanjingyi speak. IT’S BEAUTIFUL because these people don’t deserve the pretense of civility. So the priestess spells it out like it is:
Y’all are gonna regret fighting us.
The battle itself lasts way less time than I thought it would, and I think that’s because the Yanjingyi army flat-out underestimates Gyongxean magic. Honestly! The magical stone tigers frighten many of them, and they even take out a swath of soldiers in the process. It’s Briar’s plant magic, though, that saves the day. Y’all, this magic is FUCKED UP:
Saplings shot from the willow beads worn by the Yanjingyi mages. Rapidly the new trees grew. The mages tore off their strings of beads, but not fast enough to keep from being enveloped by fast-growing willows. The new trees followed their power to heal by uniting the mages’ arms with their bodies and forcing the humans’ two legs to become one. They wrapped the humans in their trunks.
WHAT THE HELL, EVERYONE. (Did this remind anyone else of Numair turning Staghorn into a tree?) Well… now there’s a grove of willow trees around the temple! That’s good, right?
The Temple of the Sealed Eye
I simply never expected this book to go in this direction. I know that might seem like a strange thing to say, but unlike pretty much everything I read for this site, Battle Magic was truly the book I was the most “prepared” for. I knew the basic idea behind this war, I knew that Evvy, Rosethorn, Briar, and Luvo survived it, and I knew that the events were so horrifying and violent that all three human characters suffered PTSD/trauma because of it. Sure, I didn’t have the details. I was missing pieces. But at no point did I ever figure out that Rosethorn went on this journey.
It’s such a cool thing to read, first of all. Rosethorn is now the oldest character given significant POV narration within an Emelan book, and that makes it feel unique. Emotionally, she’s actually a lot calmer than both Evvy and Briar, even when she’s facing some truly unreal shit. That’s not to say that she doesn’t react to anything. (CAVE SNAKES. FUCK. NO.) Nor is it to say that age guarantees maturity, either. Plus, Rosethorn does have anxieties on this trip! You can see her loneliness poke through; she worries about Briar and Evvy; her trek is treacherous and risky, too!
And through it all, Pierce never loses sight of why Rosethorn is such an entertaining character. I love that in the face of the unknown and the bizarre, Rosethorn still keeps her wittiness at the ready:
“The temple protects itself,” the voice replied.
“Did you hear that?” Rosethorn muttered to the horse as she dismounted. “The temple protects itself. The rest of us can enjoy our nice little mountain vacation that we took when others need us.”
BLESS HER HEART FOREVER.
“Grumbling makes me feel better,” she retorted. “If you don’t like it, you should have given the First Dedicate instructions, or made it possible for him to bring this burden to you.”
I love this because Rosethorn communicates this so succinctly: You chose her to do this. You’re gonna get the Full Rosethorn Experience™ or you’re gonna get nothing. Thankfully, Rosethorn also gets the Full Temple of the Sealed Eye Experience™. What does that entail?
1) Tegene Kess, an escaped slave, greeting her and IMMEDIATELY READING HER MIND.
2) The magic inside the temple gives her Tegene’s backstory almost immediately after Tegene “reads” her mind. !!!!!!! THE YANJINGYI ARE THE WORST.
3) CAVE SNAKES. NO NOW. NO TOMORROW. NO FOREVER.
4) The mountains grew bored and MADE THOSE THINGS.
5) The temple reveals that Rosethorn’s given name is NIVALIN GREENHOW. I swear to you, I do not remember this ever being mentioned before.
6) No big deal, the high priest of the Temple of the Sealed Eye – Yesh Namka – has a real third eye on his head.
7) Y’ALL. “…eagle-headed, cat-bodied, spindle-legged, horse hooved.” What the fuck is wrong with this temple?
I can’t wait to read more.
The Temple of the Tigers
I spoke about this in the video below, but I was initially very shocked at how hard the end of this chapter hit. Truthfully, the content in chapter fourteen was more visceral and distressing, and yet? Something about Briar having to hear the news that Evvy died while being tortured ruined me. I spent most of the time reading this choking back tears. Why??? I knew Evvy was alive and well, and even if I didn’t, I knew from the past two books that she survived this ordeal.
The grief is real. I believe that’s why this felt so horrible to read. Even if I know Evvy is okay with Luvo, Briar doesn’t. So he turns his hatred – that same hatred that he’d gotten so good at managing – onto everyone and everything, but mostly himself. And like Briar says, it just feels so deeply unfair. It’s not fair that the Weishu and his army make Briar feel this way when it’s their fault that Evvy was tortured.
Oh lord, I’m gonna bawl when they’re reunited. I just know it.
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