In the twenty-first chapter of Battle Magic, Rosethorn, Briar, and Evvy must make a number of difficult choices. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Battle Magic.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of warfare, and PTSD/trauma.
Gods, there’s such a grandeur to this fight, y’all. After reading more than twenty of these books, I still think one of Pierce’s best skills is writing action sequences. While we’ve had plenty of battles to read through prior to this, this is the only one that’s of this scale. So does it flow as well as other action sequences? CLEARLY IT DOES. It’s hard to capture this kind of scope without feeling lost, but Pierce does it by switching POV multiple times and never losing sight of how this experience would feel. How it would look. How it would sound like. So even when a character is focused on something specific, the scene doesn’t feel like it’s got a narrow view, you know?
At the start, Briar and Rosethorn aim to transform as many catapults into trees. A time-honored tradition, I’d say! Can we just acknowledge how cool it is that during so much destruction, Briar and Rosethorn bring life to the battlefield? Trees. TREES EVERYWHERE. So many of them that the zayao bombs and catapults become useless because the Yanjingyi can’t even see where the Gyongxe are. But for each tiny victory, it seemed the Yanjingyi just never stop. Look at what happens, first of all:
On the right, a pit opened under the Yanjingyi cavalry. They were trying to climb out, but the earth was dry. It slid under the feet of horses and fighters, dropping them back on top of those who were lower down.
OH. So, the earth, once again, opening up and eating people. That should do it, right? Right? Except the zayao bombs keep raining down. And then the mages attack, and then ROSETHORN IS SCREAMING AND MAKE IT STOP, TAMORA PIERCE. This war goes from being intensely political to intensely personal, often in the span of a few paragraphs. How can I worry about the spread of Weishu’s empire when some mage is making Rosethorn feel like she’s burning alive? But that’s why I think this chapter works so well. Pierce oscillates from one thing to the next, conveying the size and the chaos and the terror of this battle, to show us the immensity of war. But she doesn’t avoid making this real for the three main characters. We’re not detached from what this is like for them.
For example, Briar has destroyed the mage beads of Yanjingyi mages plenty of times before this. It’s not like it’s an unfamiliar technique. But when does this happen? It’s immediately after he and Rosethorn are attacked, so the scene feels frighteningly intimate. On top of that, we get a glimpse of the kind of magic that Riverdancer and the other shamans can do. Thus, the scene has the politics of Yanjingyi culture (their refusal to work with the materials their spells are stored in), Briar’s emotional state (his concerns for Rosethorn’s health, and worldbuilding (TINY SHAMANS TINY SHAMANS TINY SHAMANS.) That’s so incredibly to me! The chapter doesn’t feel overloaded or confusing, and that’s a difficult thing to pull off. The same goes for Rosethorn’s small section here, too. It’s emotional, political, and still just as exciting as everything else.
I think Evy’s role within this specific battle deserves attention to. She nearly experiences the bizarre, terrifying red cloud that the Yanjinyi mages send towards the Gyongxe troops. Y’all, they were willing to kill THEIR OWN TROOPS just to take out more of the Gyongxe. WHAT THE HELL. Yet in the face of such unrelenting terror, Evvy pulls power from her stones and from Luvo, and she still fights. Evvy, who had no one to fight for her for years until Briar and Rosethorn came into her life. She fights for strangers. She fights for a country she doesn’t even live in. Her bravery probably impresses me more than anyone else.
Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see where Pierce takes the story. I was completely surprised by the mid-chapter scenery change to the First Time in Garmashing because I had expected the entire chapter to be just the fight against Weishu. However, thanks to the three mages and Luvo, Weishu’s army ACTUALLY RETREATED. !!!!!!!!!! I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE IT. He’s not gone, mind you, which worries me. What the hell is he going to return with? How many more troops? How many more terrible weapons? As it is, what we see of Garmashing in this chapter (through Briar’s eyes) is pretty disheartening. Parts of the city are already in ruins. Can the city really withstand another full-on assault from the Yanjingyi army? I think that Parahan’s speculation that Weishu wasn’t even with the army during the first skirmish is correct. But that just makes me think that he will return this time, all with the hope of crushing Garmashing and their allies completely.
So, I assumed that this was just the calm before the next storm. I did not think this would happen.
“We have a long journey to reach our ship.”
Now the twins were staring at him.
“So you mean to leave us,” Parahan said.
Briar shrugged. “We’re supposed to be on our way home now,” he reminded their friend. “If we don’t catch our ship when it makes port in the southernmost Realm of the Sun, we risk getting caught in your monsoons. We have a family at home we won’t have seen for three years if we have to wait.”
Can they actually do this??? I mean that in a number of ways. Do they have the commitment to leave these people behind in the middle of this war? Can they actually escape from Garmashing without being caught by any Yanjingyi soldiers? I didn’t even realize that this was on the table. It’s in the midst of this that Evvy is triggered by the conversation, and she makes it very clear that she cannot get caught by the emperor again. It’s a striking moment, not because Evvy really does want to leave the country, but because it’s a reminder of the stakes. Evvy’s trauma had stayed hidden since her reunion with Briar and now? It comes spilling out in an overflow. It’s something I’ve experienced before! You can’t control when these emotions and fears and anxieties come to a head.
I suspect that Pierce will devise something to get them to stay, but right now? I don’t actually know what that is.
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