With Tempests and Slaughter (2018), Tamora Pierce launches a new series set in her beloved Tortall universe, which includes over twenty books. Pierce backtracks several years to relate the youthful experiences of Arram Draper, who plays a key role in other TORTALL books, particularly the IMMORTALS series, as the powerful mage Numair.
When Tempests and Slaughter begins, Arram is a ten year old boy, just beginning a new year at the School for Mages, part of the Imperial University of Carthak. Arram is much younger than most of his schoolmates at his level, and he feels the age difference keenly; in fact, he claims to be eleven, but that does little to narrow the social gap. One day Arram gets in trouble in a water magic class for doing a spell far beyond the capabilities of most students at this level and then losing control of the water. He thinks he might be kicked out of the School for Mages, but instead he’s moved to more challenging classes, and to a more private room rather than a large dormitory. His new roommate is Prince Orzorne of Carthak, a thirteen year old boy who is the emperor’s nephew, and whose magic is particularly attuned to birds and animals. Arram and Orzorne develop a close friendship, shared by Varice, a lovely and clever twelve year old girl with an interest in magical culinary arts.
Tempests and Slaughter follows Arram through the next several years as he develops relationships with others as well as his magical craft. We get an in-depth look at several of Arram’s magical classes, particularly those that involve private instruction from various mage masters, such as water magic, fire magic, and healing. Arram’s only close friendships are with Varice and Orzorne, who is initially about eighth in line for the throne of Carthak … except that accidents keep happening to other heirs.
Tempests and Slaughter is a charming book, if episodic in its approach and rather meandering as we follow Arram through the years. In the last third of the book the plot begins to gel to some extent, particularly when Arram is drawn into a dark secret that may put him and others in danger. Carthak is a brutal country, with internal political conflicts, slavery, and popular gladiator battles to the death. Arram has the opportunity to help heal gladiators of their injuries and to assist the poor when there’s a major outbreak of the plague. Experiences like these help confirm his antipathy toward slavery and oppression. Arram believes he can influence his friend Orzorne for good, perhaps even convince him to end the practice of slavery in Carthak, but Orzorne has ambitions and ideas of his own.
Arram is an appealing if rather earnest boy who is sometimes incautious in his enthusiasm for magic and ferreting out the truth. The details of his magical instruction and experiences are engaging enough that I never got bored. Somewhat amusingly, Pierce elects to include some of the physical details about puberty from a boy’s point of view. It’s a very minor addition that struck me as a little clunky and off-beat in the context of this book, but perhaps a younger reader will appreciate it more than I did. We also get to know Varice and Orzorne quite well, as this new Tortall novel sheds light on two characters who will later play a significant role in the third and fourth books of the IMMORTALS series, The Emperor Mage and The Realms of the Gods.
Tempests and Slaughter is written on an older middle grade level, but both young and older fans of the TORTALL books will enjoy learning more about Numair’s pre-teen and early teenage years. Now that the scene is set, I’ll be anxious to reading the next book(s) in this new NUMAIR CHRONICLES series.