Wild Magic was the first book I ever read by fantasy teen writer Tamora Pierce, and continues to be my favourite. It may help slightly if you have read Pierce’s previous Song of the Lioness quartet, but certainly not necessary — I didn’t get round to reading it until several years later. Wild Magic is the first book of The Immortals quartet, and in my opinion, the best series of stories that Pierce has to offer, placing her immensely likeable heroine Daine amidst a backdrop of magical upheaval, the threat of war and Daine’s own mysterious and tragic past. That Pierce manages to meld this huge range of subjects into a coherent whole is amazing — that it is set in a fantasy world that reads as a realistic place makes it even more remarkable.
Daine is a thirteen-year-old orphan, harboring a dark secret, that joins up with Onua the horsemistress to take ponies across the borders to the kingdom of Tortall. Although Daine doesn’t have the magical “Gift” that many other people possess, she does have what she calls “a knack with animals” that allows her to communicate on a deeper level with animals of all kind, a magical trait she soon finds is called “Wild Magic”. As the two women begin their journey they are soon beset by a range of dangers: monsters that have not been seen in thousands of years have suddenly been released back into the human realms where previously they had been locked up in the Divine Realms. After a run-in with a flock of hideous half-human, half-steel winged birds the women rescue a strange black hawk that has a very odd effect on Daine’s magical abilities.
Though I won’t give away the twist in the tale concerning the bird, I will say that its presence causes much concern for the Tortallians, for it is just another piece of evidence that the mighty conquering empire of Charthak, lying just beyond the Inland Sea, has set its sights on Tortall. When Alanna’s home Pirate’s Swoop is placed under siege, it would seem that Daine alone can use her Wild Magic to save her newfound friends and home.
Wild Magic is chocka-block full of every possible scenario you could think of, from dragons and griffins, to war barges and sea battles. Daine’s Wild Magic is instigated in the most ingenious ways to fight the marauding pirates, and her own training on using and controlling her magic is a task that Pierce nicely draws out throughout the novel (harking back to Alanna’s own knight-training in the previous quartet). There are appearances from old familiar faces, and one might be delighted that both Thayet and Alanna now have children of their own, but the new cast are fascinating: Cloud, Numair, Onua — they’re all wonderful, colorful, well-drawn characters.
Although the main secret to Daine’s dark past is revealed by the end of the book, readers know that there is more to come that even she isn’t aware of. Guided by the gruff silver-clawed Badger, and haunted by dreams of a strange horned man, readers should have the next book “Wolf-Speaker” on hand in order to find out more.
For many years now Pierce has been writing wonderful books, and it is easy to spot why her books are so popular: not only is her fantasy realm colorful and magical, with intriguing plots and incredibly vivid, likeable characters, but the books feel very real. All of her magical components have rules and limits, and there is a sense of both history and politics to the world. As well as this, there is subtle mention of the daily necessities of people that other fantasy novels pretend don’t exist: human beings in Pierce’s books eat, sleep, go to the toilet, and (if they are a woman) have their monthly bleeding. It sounds silly to mention, but all of the above detail make Pierce an author worth exploring, who has managed to create a world as interesting and complete as Middle-Earth, Narnia, Prydain, the Old Kingdom (Garth Nix) and Philip Pullman’s alternate worlds — I only wish the books were longer! Forget the fantasy imitators — Pierce is the real thing.
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.