Talking to Animals, Fighting Monsters

It’s not one of my reading challenges, but I have a personal goal this year to re-read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books.  I’ve been reading her new books as they come out, but it had been years since I read the older ones.  I re-read the Song of the Lioness quartet in January, and it really is just unutterably wonderful.  In February, I re-read The Immortals quartet–and that’s my subject today.

The Immortals quartet is always referred to in my mind as the Daine books.  The main character is Veralidaine Sarrasri, an orphaned girl who discovers that her “knack with animals” is actually powerful magic.  She comes to Tortall (the setting of Song of the Lioness); she finds a job caring for horses for the Queen’s Riders, and finds a mentor in the magician Numair Salmalin, who helps her learn to use the wild magic that lets her talk to animals.  Meanwhile, the realm is threatened by strange magical creatures, who were locked in the Divine Realm 400 years before and are now escaping.  These are the immortals–they can in fact be killed, but will live forever if they aren’t killed.  Many of the creatures are in league with Emperor Ozorne of Carthak, who seeks war against Tortall.  Daine and her friends, human, animal, and even immortal, have to unite to defend against the threat.

The quartet opens almost ten years after the end of Song of the Lioness.  Many of the major characters from the first quartet come back in supporting roles here, and I LOVE seeing Alanna, George, Jonathan, Thayet and all the rest back again, and finding out what they’ve made of their lives.  The new characters are good too.  Numair is great fun and often quite funny–at one point he’s turned to stone, breaks free of the spell, and asks the spellcaster to do it again so he can try to break out again.

Daine is a lovely heroine as well.  She grows a lot, both as a person and in her magic.  Her magic develops, finding new abilities in every book.  At first she can only talk to animals; then she learns to inhabit their minds, then to change shape herself.  She also starts out very friendless, hesitant to trust anyone, absorbed only in her own life, and grows into relationships and a position of importance in the world.  She also grows in her understanding of the immortals, realizing over time that they’re more than just monsters.  She does find a place among very important people very quickly, which feels a little contrived–but only a little.  It’s mostly justified by circumstance, and also by what I know of the characters.  Queen Thayet’s friendliness to a strange girl from another country has more to do with Thayet than with Daine.

Other than Daine and Numair, the other characters that stand out the most to me are the animals and the immortals.  Daine has at least one animal sidekick in every book.  In the first it’s her horse, Cloud, who feels she has to take care of Daine and keep her from doing anything foolish.  By the second book, Daine has adopted Kitten, a baby dragon.  There’s also a wolf pack in that one, and a squirrel I just love.  In the third book there’s a tiny monkey, and the fourth book introduces the darkings, inkblot-like creatures who are surprisingly adorable.  And there’s Rikash, a Stormwing–half human, half metal bird–who brings Daine to see that even Stormwings, one of the most vile of the immortals, are more than just monsters.

These are in many ways more fantastical books than Song of the Lioness.  There’s certainly magic in the first quartet, but it feels different.  Magic is more like a tool, one Alanna uses or that her enemies use against her, or it comes up as part of rituals.  For Daine, magic is a way of life.  She’s constantly using her magic one way or another, her closest friend is a magician, and she’s always fighting magical creatures.  It creates a different feel; in some ways it may make Daine a little harder to relate to, although it’s certainly a lot of fun to read about.

I love this quartet, although I will acknowledge it’s not quite on a level with Song of the Lioness.  A few times there were point of view switches that bothered me, especially in the beginning of the first book, and sometimes the characterization seemed just a touch off–people weren’t saying things I thought they ought be saying.  Those are relatively minor, though, and I mention them only because I know this was written after Song of the Lioness, and it makes me wonder if that quartet has issues too, only I’m so swept along by the characters and the plot that I don’t notice them!

A bigger issue in The Immortals is the romance.  I don’t like it.  I’m sorry to people who are fans of it, but I just don’t.  I don’t want to give spoilers but…I will say Daine ends up with a character who is in all four books, but their relationship is very different in the first two books.  In the third there are a few hints of something, but everything could very easily and reasonably be interpreted according to the earlier basis of their relationship.  And then in book four there’s suddenly a romance.  And I just don’t like it.  It’s a particular kind of romantic story arc that almost never works for me.

But don’t be put off by that.  Because whatever the minor issues of the books are, they’re still wonderful to read.  I won’t say they changed my life, but they’re certainly another great example of a strong female lead in fantasy, and there’s a good message about everyone having strength and value.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
My Advice to Avoid Being Laughed Off the Page (includes spoilers)
Kathy Takes on Books
The Sleepless Reader
Tell me about yours!

2 thoughts on “Talking to Animals, Fighting Monsters

  1. Laura R.

    I love, love, love the Daine books too and am in the middle of a re-read! I think I first discovered these in upper elementary school. I certainly didn’t know what to do with the “lover” stuff in The Song of the Lioness back then, but they were just engrossing books! I met Tamora Pierce in 2003 and have a few autographed copies of her books.

    Although I am a huge fan of the romance in The Immortals, other than that we seem to agree on most everything–that these books are basically amazing, the heroines are so human and interesting, the settings are fabulous. I see this blog was written many years ago so I hope you’re still enjoying fantasy romps out there! Have you ever read Kristen Britain’s Green Rider? You might like it.

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