Magic Steps is the first book of the Tamora Pierce quartet entitled The Circle Opens. Featuring the characters of The Circle of Magic quartet, this new series continues their story by exploring how each of the four main characters — just coming to grips with their powers in the previous books — now handle the challenge of becoming teachers themselves. Unfortunately, Pierce has decided that one of the prerequisites of this new experience is that the four protagonists — Sandry, Briar, Daja and Tris — must be separated in order to focus on the new relationships that they forge with their students. Therefore, Magic Steps opens with the acknowledgement that Briar, Tris and Daja have set off (separately) with their teachers in order to travel to certain parts of the world and further their studies in their individual fields of magic.
Poor Sandry has been left behind, currently staying with her uncle, the Duke Vedris, in order to watch over his health after a heart-attack has left him weakened. This is sad, as the bond between these four very different characters was the central theme of The Circle of Magic, and most definitely the strongest portrayal of friendship that Pierce has written in any of her books to date. Although the missing characters are mentioned in passing, they are sorely missed. To add to the loss, their mentors have gone with them, depriving us of the playful banter that existed between Rosethorn, Frostpine, Lark and Niko and their young surrogate family.
So yes, I entered this new series highly skeptical as to how much I would enjoy it, having immensely enjoyed the interactions that existed in the previous quartet. How well does The Circle Opens do without this fundamental backbone to series? Well, one of the advantages is that we get more character development on Sandry, a character who was apparently the protagonist of Sandry’s Book (Circle of Magic, Book 1), but who had to share the spotlight heavily with the other three characters, that being the first introductory book in the series. So I always felt that Sandry was edged out of the spotlight a little, and Magic Steps gives Pierce a chance to explore her character further. Unlike other more “gung-ho” heroines of Pierce’s books, Sandry is a much more docile and composed character — though she lacks none of her peers’ strength when it comes to getting what she wants! It’s refreshing to find a more gentle and feminine heroine in Pierce’s canon of heroines, as I strongly believe that a woman shouldn’t have to swing a sword and scream battle cries in order to be deemed a strong female role model for young readers. Sandry fits into this category nicely, solving her problems with politeness, kindness, dignity and a will of iron.
Whilst accompanying her uncle on his daily morning ride, Sandry comes across a young twelve year old boy named Pasco who seems to be able to channel magic through dance. As the discoverer of his magical ability, tradition decrees that Sandry become his teacher, and though she doesn’t feel quite up to the task, she throws herself into his instruction. Meanwhile, there is a spate of grisly murders occurring all over the city, targeting the Rokat family. Sandry becomes involved when it becomes clear that the assassins are using a particular type of magic called “unmagic” that renders all other spells powerless against it. She soon comes to the conclusion that it is only a delicate blend of Pasco’s and her own magic that can possibly bring the killers to justice — though putting this plan into action is a delicate and tiring business.
The story itself is not quite Pierce’s best, although there is a humanizing element present in all the characters, even in the assassins, who aren’t just killing for the fun of it. However, Pierce does go a little overboard in the grisly nature of the murders that take place, which involve beheadings and the killing of children/infants. However, the final dramatic confrontation between Sandry and the killers is handled particularly well, with a couple of poignant twists thrown in the mix.
The bond between Sandry and Pasco isn’t as explored as deeply as I would have liked. Pierce begins their relationship by hinting that Pasco has a bit of a crush on Sandry, something that would have added a certain amount of humour to the lessons that follow, but this element is dropped soon after it’s introduced. However, perhaps in compensation, we are treated to hints of a romance between Duke Vedris and Pasco’s dance instructor, the vivacious Yazmin Hebet.
It ends on a note that points toward the direction that the following books in this series will be taking: the mission of the four young mages to pass on the gift of learning that was granted to them, and of finding their places in the adult world. No complains here, but I would have greatly appreciated a prologue to this new series, one that showed the departure of Tris/Niko, Daja/Frostpine and Briar/Rosethorn, simply to give us an update on the characters’ relationships and what would have been a very poignant farewell between the four friends and their elders. As it is, we’re thrown into the characters’ new situation too quickly, with no time to really feel the pain that comes with the separation of family.
The Circle Opens — (2000-2003) Young adult. Publisher: Lady Sandrilene fa Toren is a noble girl whose thread magic wove together the power — and the personal bonds — of four young magicians. Now, Lady Sandrilene is on her own and saddled with teaching magic to a restless boy, safeguarding her uncle’s health, and tracking down a brutal murderer.