Book Focus - November 2005The Will of the Empress
By Tamora Pierce
0-439-44171-4, $17.99, Ages 14 & up
LS: All of us at Scholastic eagerly anticipated Tammy's exciting "standalone" novel, following the success of the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens quartets. And Tammy's fans were clamoring to see the circle reforged. As soon as I dove into the manuscript, I knew -- Tammy had created a masterpiece.
Sure enough, the reception to the book has been extraordinary -- it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the last two weeks; it's on the Booksense bestseller list currently, and reviews have been stellar.
KE: When the first draft of Tammy Pierce’s Will of the Empress arrived on my desk in a bulky envelope, I felt both elated and a little bit nervous. It had been over two years since I’d worked on one of Tammy’s books, and a lot had changed since then. For one thing, I couldn’t help wondering if Tammy herself had changed. Her popularity had skyrocketed since we’d worked together last; her schedule was ever more crowded with public appearances. Would her newest manuscript measure up to her usual impeccable standards, written while so many other demands were competing for her time? And even more importantly, what about her mages? Sandry and Tris, Daja and Briar were like old friends to me by then, but old friends who’d lost touch for a while. They would be older in the new book, but I’d known them since they were just kids. Would I still like them now? Would I even recognize them?
Let’s just say that, after finishing the draft, I just about fell out of my chair. For one thing, Tammy’s writing is sharper and more perceptive than ever – no wonder her fans are always clamoring for more books! I found myself penciling notes in the margins, questions like “why would she do this?” or “what if he said something along these lines,” only to find, again and again, that Tammy had anticipated my questions. Her characters are remarkably well thought out and remarkably complex, as much like real people as I imagine is possible. And, as always, Tammy is a master storyteller. It takes her a while to set the scene in this book, to give her readers a sense of the crowd and the constant activity at the palace of Empress Berenene. Once the story is set in motion, however, it is a breathtaking adventure, impossible to put down – even on the third and the fourth reading. It’s no exaggeration to say that The Will of the Empress is Tammy’s most accomplished book to date for Scholastic Press, written on an almost epic scale without ever losing sight of the smallest details that give a reader insight into the characters and the fantastic world they inhabit.
As for the mages, well, they have changed – but in ways that feel utterly organic and true to who they were when we first met them in the Circle of Magic quartet. They’ve grown up, they’ve made themselves over – but I would recognize them anywhere. I’ve worked on sequels and series before where we never dared to “age” the characters. I used to think it was because readers couldn’t handle it, but now I understand that it’s because this is a very challenging feat for an author. Changes in character must come from the characters, not from the outside – change too drastically, and it’s unbelievable, but change too little and it’s unsatisfying. Here, Tammy has found the golden medium. Readers may not be surprised to find that Briar has become a ladies’ man, but they may be surprised to discover that Daja has fallen in love! The characters are older and different, to be sure, but I’d say that they’re mostly just more themselves, if that makes any sense. They have found themselves, since they’ve been apart. The challenge in this book is for them to find each other again!