“I am Sandrilene fa Toren, daughter of Count Mattin fer Toren and his countess, Amiliane fa Landreg. I am the great-niece of his grace, Duke Vedris of this realm of Emelan, and cousin of her Imperial Highness, Empress Berenene of the Namorn Empire… If I tell you my friend is a lady, then you had best start lapping, kitty.”
was a child of mountains, the seeress, obsidian edges and granite skin. She was
a child of volcanoes, mountains with molten hearts, and she would burn the
world to keep her father’s damning eyes from noticing the gold fire that
sparked from his son’s hands.
I’m in the middle of listening to the Emelan books and am currently on Magic Steps ( Sandry’s Circle Opens book) and am continually impressed with how Tamora Pierce writes a heavily privileged character, who is also trapped by some of her privileges while also blind to them. I think “The Will of the Empress” most explicitly shows Sandry’s blindness to her privilege and position as nobility related to royalty, but it’s subtly all over “ Dancing Steps” too.
Sandry occasionally has to assert her authority in order to view crime scenes and convince Pasco’s family that he does indeed have dancing magic. She does have to assert it but there’s never any instance where she might be in danger for asserting it with a guard, policing force or government official unlike Briar and Tris in their Circle Opens books. No one is going to hit her or torture her for interfering. She never has to count coppers , as seen when she and the provost mages need more silk. The Mage even tells her how nice ( and different) it is for them to just buy what they need for their work. It’s the mage, a middle class harrier mage, who notices that Sandry just gets what she needs, not Sandry herself. Sandry is a step away from royalty and it brings her money and protection.
At the same time, Tamora Pierce also throws in subtle hints abou how Sandry is trapped by her position of privilege. Sandry has to sit ramrod straight as is ladylike. After ripping Captain Quais a new one she knows she must send him a letter of apology later since she is Sandrilene fa Toren and noble ladies are not rude to Provost captains. Tellingly, when Sandry loses her temper and is rude to him, she is behaving like her friend Tris who has the freedom to be as rude as she likes to a jackass without then being expected to apologize ( stepping back into the role of dove like, ladylike behavior). People continually see Sandry as Sandrilene fa Toren the noble before they see her as Sandry a powerful mage. In the original circle books Sandry was constantly coming up against the idea that noble girls don’t spin or weave and even while people don’t say that to her anymore, she’s still coming up against the idea that noble girls are good for naught but to wait on and be married.
I find Sandry a really fascinating character because she is written this way. Tamora Pierce has created a character who is kind, practical, and hard working and then put her in a position of highest privilege. That character then uses that privilege and is occasionally oblivious to it but Pierce also shows how Sandry is also occasionally oppressed by her good fortune ( without ever implying that Sandry’s struggles with her class as an aristocrat negate the many benefits it grants her). It’s a complicated portrait of social class.
The older I get the more I appreciate the circle universe books and the more I am astounded ( and appreciative) that Pierce created complex portraits of social class in a book for children.
I talked a lot about Tamora Pierce’s Tortallan world yesterday, but I find I can’t leave out the Circle of Magic books and those amazing characters.
So let’s start with base culture, because that is always super important! Tortall was the more ‘traditional’ Western, knights in shining armor. Emelan is based on a more Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean culture. Many of the stories take place in a 'Greece’ based area, but Briar is from Hajra, a kingdom with a notably more Turkish aspect.
As with all Tamora Pierce stories we have an abundance of strong female characters, but in the Circle stories we also get a more diverse MAIN cast. PoC exist all over Tortall, but they aren’t really main characters like they are here. Briar has 'golden brown skin and black hair’, Daja “is a black Trader, described as being tall, broad-shouldered and muscular”. The other two children, Sandry and Tris, are lighter skinned (Tris is a red-head, Sandry brunette). They live in a Temple cottage with their mentors Lark and Rosethorn, who are both women AND NO ONE CARES.
Pierce takes these kids and puts them through a lot really early in the books. Sandry loses her family to a plague, which she escaped by being locked in a supply closet for over a week. Daja loses her family to a shipwreck (and is then declared outcast from Trader society, a guilt that takes her a long time to get over), Briar was brought to the Temple from the courts where he was sentenced to a lifetime of labor (he was a street thief) and Tris was shunted from family member to family member, none of whom wanted to deal with her erratic weather magic. The Circle of Magic series talks a lot more about the damage people are put through, and how even the worst things can be survived.
Very feminist, very intersectional, and very inspirational. This concludes my rants about Tamora Pierce. Stay tuned for more authors coming soon.
After reading this post I feel the need to rant about Sandry.
I always felt that Sandry was kind of an underrated character. I mean Daja, Briar and especially Tris have very flashy magic and are really badass. But I felt Sandry’s power’s were never explored really except for in Magic Steps when she creates a net of unmagic and literally rips apart the killers.
So let’s take a moment to think about all the amazing possibilities her magic could have (especially if she was evil).
Besides the usual thread magic basics (which we could make an amazing list of such as weaving maps to find things), Sandry is the only known mage who can manipulate magic as thread. As the aforementioned post said that means she could probably ripped the life force out of a fellow mage given that their magic is connected to their life force.
That also means that maybe she could collect magic from others and store it for use (like Tris with weather and such). She could be like Rouge from the X-men borrowing others powers or using them to create some even stronger magical force like during the earthquake.
Another thing she could probably do is move people like puppets, especially given that muscles are made of incredibly microscopic threads, which also means she could probably have amazing healing potential.
And according to String Theory everything is made up of tiny strings! That just opens up a well of possibilities such as maybe giving her a sort of spidey-sense or a sensitivity to the world.
Like I just feel like there could be so much more to Sandry’s powers, and she’s such a fantastic character!
I want to see something with Daja and Evvy working together and combining their magic to make the most awesome jewelry ever. Evvy can decide what stones they need to work with, and Daja would create some cool design for the metal parts. Sandry could even make clothing to go with their designs. The result is the most awesome, kickass outfit and accessories ever.
Briar could help by picking out the best cotton/flax plants for the clothing, and Tris could use her connection to lightning and magma to help with the metalwork and stonework.
- “Why?” Sandry demanded, quivering as if she might yet flee him. “Why do you have such a distaste for it, when so many other men do not?”
- Ambros cleared his throat. “You judge us all by the actions of a few, Cousin.”
- Sandry made a face. “I’m sorry, Ambros,” she apologized, her voice still raspy. “I’m overwrought, I suppose.”
- Ealaga sighed. “Really, my dear husband, for a man who is so clever, you can be so shortsighted,” she said with unhappy patience. “What else is she supposed to do, when any unmarried woman of western Namorn must live her life and judge all men by those few who have successfully stolen women away? Each time a man succeeds, we place our daughters and our sisters under new safeguards. We give them new signs that a man in whose company they find themselves might plan to kidnap them. Don’t we teach our women to view all men according to the actions of a few?”
The Will of the Empress by her imperial majesty, Tamora Pierce, empress of amazing themes, tsarina of excellence, queen of fantasy, grand duchess of the superb, archduchess of intriguing plots, princess of fascinating characters, duchess of feminism, marchioness of diverse magics, countess of many realms, viscountess of charming villains, lady of stupendously written novels, baroness of perfection.