Tamora Pierce is the author of several fantasy novels, and I recently had the opportunity to review the first book in her latest series, Tempests and Slaughter. Please read on for the review.
Back Cover Blurb
Arram Draper is on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting trouble. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram realizes that one day–soon–he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.
I’ve no previous exposure to Tamora Pierce’s work, but judging from the information on the dust cover, she’s written a number of series set in the Tortall fantasy realm, and Tempests and Slaughter is the first book of another Tortall series. However, Tempests and Slaughter doesn’t provide a particularly engaging introduction to the Tortall realm and falls short as a standalone novel.
At the very beginning of the book is a map of “Tortall and Neighboring Realms,” which displays the kingdom of Tortall smack in the middle. However, the setting for Tempests and Slaughter is the Carthak Empire, which the map doesn’t even show in its entirety. Actually, a map of the University of Carthak would’ve been more helpful because the vast majority of action takes place at the school, and even when characters leave its grounds, they never go far from it.
Our main character is Arram Draper. The dust cover describes him as “a talented young man with a knack for making enemies.” Talented, yes. Knack for making enemies, not really. Basically, he’s a ten-year old genius, and at the university, he’s the mage version of the whiz kid taking college level math while his agemates are still learning fractions. So he encounters occasional classmate bullying because he doesn’t fit in, but he also becomes the pet of every instructor who takes him on (and there are at least eight of them). Plus, he also wins over gladiators, clinic patients, various animals, and two deities, and by the end of the book, he’s been romantically involved with three girls, all of whom pursued HIM. That’s quite the opposite of “a knack for making enemies.”
His two best friends are Varice and Prince Ozorne, who are also prodigies, although not nearly as young or talented as Arram. Ozorne is interesting in that he’s in line for the Carthak throne and must contend with a certain political reality. Varice, on the other hand, is rather bland. Her most distinguishing characteristics are that she’s a gorgeous blonde and likes to cook so she’s always feeding the two boys.
Between the school for magic and the three-friend aspect, Tempests and Slaughter seems a not so subtle attempt at a Harry Potter type of story. Unfortunately, it falls flat. It’s not that the magical elements aren’t fleshed out; Pierce puts in plenty of detail about the workings of Gifts as Arram goes from one teacher to the next. The problem is that there’s no strong plot to carry the novel from a beginning to an end.
The book shows Arram getting an education—and that’s about it. He hasn’t come to the university to fulfill a specific purpose. He doesn’t have to worry about the practical aspects of financing his very expensive education became his instructors arrange for a scholarship plus stipend. (Not to mention, he’s always receiving special gifts from them.) He has no rival he’s competing against. His bully encounters are brief and never escalate to anything serious. He’s not seeking revenge or redemption. He has such amazing talent his teachers come to HIM for help. The threesome never turns to a love triangle, and Arram gets the girl he’s always wanted without even trying.
The story does contain a number of elements with the potential to become the backbone of an arc (i.e. the murdered mage). However, they are simply introduced and not fleshed out. It seems like the purpose of this book is to lay the groundwork for the real conflict that is to come later in the series, but I feel cheated that so little is resolved after 455 pages.
The other issue with this book is that I’m not sure what its intended audience is. Arram is ten at the beginning of the story and can’t be more than fourteen by the end of the novel. I associate that protagonist age range with middle grade readers. However, the content includes graphic gladiator-type violence and a typhoid plague that has Arram puking his guts out as well as various sexual references. These elements I associate with young adult stories. So Tempests and Slaughter creates a weird combination of YA content and a childish mindset. In addition, that childish mindset doesn’t get jaded, despite all the awful things Arran sees and experiences.
Existing fans of Tamora Pierce’s fantasy books may feel differently, but as a newcomer to her Tortall fantasy world, I’m not inclined to explore it further after reading Tempests and Slaughter. There’s certainly a lot of magic and magic lessons, but they serve no purpose other than making prodigy Arram an even more advanced student. While some interesting events do arise, they never fully develop into a real plot, and overall, Tempests and Slaughter fails to generate enough anticipation for me to be interested in the series’ next book.
First published at The Fandom Post.