Former "street rat" Briar leads a comfortable life at Winding Circle Temple, learning plant magic from Rosethorn. But street kids are still his friends, and when one of them gets sick, she turns to Briar for help. When her disease proves beyond even Rosethorn's power, Briar realizes that all of Summersea is in danger. As the mysterious illness spreads, Sandry, Daja, and Tris join Briar and their teachers to fight the epidemic. But just as the situation improves, the unthinkable happens. Will Briar be able to save what he loves the most?
I absolutely adore Ms.Pierce's books. I started this series when I was in middle school, and they still are a good fun read today. This is the fourth book of the first quartet (there is one more quartet and a stand alone novel about the same characters in this world at Winding Circle) The books have multiple perspectives from the 4 mages in training Sandry, Briar, Tris, and Daja, though each book does spend more time developing the title character's, well, character. I love that Pierce deals with very mature themes especially compared to most young adult fantasy novels. Each character deals with big issues like Racism, Sexism, Class/Equality issues and eventually gender identity issues.
I was totally going through an emotional roller-coaster this whole book. Briar and Rosethorn are my favorite characters and I was soooo worried that everything wouldn't turn out alright. It does end with some loss, but I was practically pulling out my hair in the last few chapters. For some background for those of you not familiar with the series, Briar has an affinity with plants, and he and his teacher Rosethorn can weave magic using the life force and magic that is inherent in the plants. It has been great to see Briar grow throughout the quartet. He started off really surly and mean, and kind of jaded. It is amazing how far he has come from the streets to being a fabulous mage in the making. This book really captures his differences as he fights to save something he loves. Just a short year ago, Briar would never have loved anything in the first place, let alone show any kind of emotion to anyone.
I really enjoyed the depth of the metaphysics in this book. It is truly interesting to see the web that the 4 have woven and included their respective teachers in. When the four dive down into the depths of someone's soul to save them from the disease, it was a really cool and different kind of mystical event.
I also found it interesting that throughout the series, all of the mages are dedicated to gods. They have their own unique pantheon of gods, which draw similarities to Greek and Roman or even Norse gods. I thought it was interesting that these people who can do such wonderful things for themselves with magic still draw upon the powers above. I think that this whole world of the Pebbled Sea is amazingly well thought out and it is my favorite series that Peirce currently has out. I was kind of sad that she is still focused very much on Tortall, the other mystical land that she writes about.
Of the covers, there was a more cartoony version that I got, then a darker and more sinister feeling one that came out later. Maybe I am just a sucker for animation, but I liked the illustrated version better. The other version fits the feel and theme of the story better, but it isn't as heart-felt, and you don't really get an image of what Briar actually looks like.
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