The Emperor Mage is the third book in Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals Quartet, and by this stage if you haven’t read the previous installments (Wild Magic and Wolf Speaker) I heartily recommend that you don’t start here — you’ll be completely baffled. A peace delegation including Alanna the Lioness, the Gareths and other nobles from Tortall have been sent to the hot, swampy Charthak Empire in order to negotiate peace with the war-mongering Emperor Ozorne. With them is Numair, once the Emperor’s best friend and now his sworn enemy, Daine, who has been chosen to come in order to heal the Emperor’s beloved and sickly birds, and Kitten the baby-dragon, whom the Emperor is intensely curious about.
Although the negotiations intensely important to Tortall, considering that war with Charthak is unimaginable (especially since it is believed that it was Ozourne that released the Immortals back into the human realms), everyone is optimistic about the success of restoring peace. So long as nothing untoward happens — but of course Daine specializes in stirring up trouble whether she wants to or not. Before she even sets foot on Charthaki soil she is visited by her Badger-god mentor who scolds her for leaving her homeland and gives her a dire warning: “The gods have lost patience with the Emperor.”
But the delegation has no chance of turning back now, and soon Daine is mingling with Prince Kaddar, the heir to the throne, Lindhall Reed, Numair’s old tutor, and the Emperor himself. And yet their is more going on in Charthak — the Stormwing Rikash has returned and seems to have his own agenda with the Emperor and a snappish old slave woman who is certainly not what she seems has a special gift for Daine…
The Emperor seems to have neglected the gods and is now misinterpreting their potent signs, a mistake that might lead Numair into terrible danger. Once more Daine is called upon to use her Wild Magic, finding in it a strength and power that is almost unimaginable.
The Emperor Mage, despite the fact that the previous two books in the series are necessary to understand it, is a truly excellent read. For the first time we go across the inland sea to Charthak, and Pierce constructs the empire with astonishing detail and color: everything from army regulations to the type of jewelry that the nobles wear is included in such a way that doesn’t feel encyclopedic or boring. The palace is especially beautiful, from the magnificent statues, to the Hall of Bones, to the aviary and menagerie.
The characters are equally fascinating: the distant threat that was the Emperor in the previous books is now brought up close and personal — and to my surprise he is initially quite charming! Likewise, the Graveyard Hag is a delight, and Zek the pygmy marmoset is so gorgeous, it left me wanting one. Daine and Numair continue to grow into more complex and intriguing characters (look out for the first hints of something else going on between them), and although I dearly missed Onua and Cloud, Kitten is beguiling enough to hold her own.
There are a few silly one liners (“how nice for us — we can have a reunion” and “that is the greatest understatement I’ve ever heard in my life”), but the fantastic story overcompensates for this. I remember well myself at the age of fourteen, reading this book with the help of a torch at three in the morning — I just couldn’t bring myself to put it down!
The Immortals — (1992-1996) Young adult. Publisher: Thirteen-year-old Daine has always had a knack with animals, but it’s not until she’s forced to leave home that she realizes it’s more than a knack — it’s magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but also she can make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen’s Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his student. Under Numair’s guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she begins to sense other beings too: immortals. These bloodthirsty monsters have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years, but now someone has broken the barrier. It’s up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an immortal attack.