|The Will of the Empress|
|A Novel of the Emelan|
|Protagonist|| Sandrilene fa Toren|
|Antagonist|| Berenene dor Ocmore|
|UK Release Date|
|Followed by||Melting Stones|
The Will of the Empress is the ninth book and first standalone set in the Circle Universe by Tamora Pierce. The book is set four years after the last The Circle of Magic book, and the four protagonists are all around 18 years old. The book is centered around the tensions from their reunion after being away from each for quite a long time. They have different experiences, different wishes, and different behaviors.
The Four Reunite
The book opens with Sandrilene fa Toren when she is just sixteen, having just received reports of her lands in Namorn which she doesn't want to go over. Daja Kisubo returns not long after and will not speak telepathically with Sandry like the other girl wants her to. They fight and are tense around each other, as Daja is saddened that she cannot live at Winding Circle anymore as a sixteen year old accredited mage. Trisana Chandler is the next to return and is distrustful of her old foster family and is afraid they'll treat her differently for mastering new magic techniques. She also brings Chime, a living glass dragon.
Two years after this, Briar Moss returns from far lands where he was caught in the midst of a war, which gave him post-traumatic stress disorder and extremely bad nightmares about what happened. He is afraid of opening up to his foster sisters and of how they'll treat him, so he doesn't tell them much of what happened while abroad.
Vedris fer Toren is put under pressure from Empress Berenene, the powerful female ruler of the Namorn Empire, and Sandry's second cousin. The empress wants Sandry to come to Namorn to see her lands and her mother's country. Berenene has even threatened monetary repercussions on Emelan if Vedris does not use his influence on his great-niece to send her north. Sandry finds out from Erdogun fer Baigh and is outraged, planning to go immediately so no one would be inconvenienced. Duke Vedris is still nervous, however, and asks her three foster-siblings to go with her, even though they are at odds. They agree as they like the Duke.
Journey to Namorn
The four bump heads while getting ready, and they travel with Third Caravan Saralan, a Trader caravan that is heading up to Dancruan. Daja still has a lot of clout with the Traders, so she and her foster-siblings are invited to sit with the Traders, and to see rare artisanal work. While crossing a river, Tris suddenly brings out her lightning to get the caravan to move faster. The moment they reach the other side, flooding occurs that would've swept them away if she hadn't seen it coming. Sandry is still outraged, but Briar knows how to calm Tris.
The four run into a group of nobles after the caravan went on without them (per the four's request). The nobles are hunting Chime, and Sandry realizes a bit too late that their leader is Empress Berenene herself. They are impressed with the magical proficiency of her bodyguard Quenaill Shieldsman, who raises an impenetrable shield around the empress in a matter of seconds.
They reach Sandry's sprawling townhouse/mansion in Dancruan and get settled. They talk about about "experience" in terms of sexuality, and remark that Briar has gotten to be a bit of a ladies' man. Ambros fer Landreg arrives later in the night, and Briar notices that Sandry has been practicing meditation, as she used her magic to spread a web around the house so she knows who comes and goes. Ambros is surprised to learn that Sandry doesn't plan to stay in Namorn indefinitely and informs her that the empress will be quite determined in her wish.
The empress, who is also a point of view character, is shown to look over the four's files that her spies have collected and has plans to lure each of them to remain in her country as she sees their value.
They are presented to Berenene dor Ocmore the day after at the Imperial Palace. Empress Berenene tests Sandry's magical skill and political knowledge, much to Sandry's chagrin when she realizes it. The empress, like many others, believe that Sandry plays a lesser role in Emelan politics than she does.
Sandry meets Pershan fer Roth, the only nobleman at her cousin's court whom she really likes. Daja meets Rizuka fa Dalach; and Briar is invited to see the empress's greenhouses, earning him the jealousy of other young noblemen of the court.
Quen and Ishabal Ladyhammer realize that Tris would be an excellent addition to the empress's mages, and give her an offer. When the empress invites the four on an outing, Sandry declines for the group and says that they must visit Landreg—as it was what they came to Namorn to do. This angers Briar and Tris, who feel that Sandry made that decision without their consent.
Nevertheless, the four go to Landreg with four members of Berenene's court: Rizuka fa Dalach, Caidlene fa Sarajane, Finlach fer Hurich, and Jakuben fer Pennun; the latter two of whom were chosen by Berenene to court Sandry and to convince her to remain in Namorn. During the journey, Sandry confronts Ambros fer Landreg about the disrepair on her lands, and this is when she first hears of possible monetary problems that the estate suffers from.
Once they reach the manse, they are introduced to Ambros's wife Ealaga fa Landreg, a very kind woman; and their four daughters. They all get settled in. At night, Sandry wakes up to find the light gone and panics. She finds that a woman, Gudruny Iarun, has sneaked in to her room in order to talk to her. Gudruny tells her of her plight in an abusive marriage, and how that came to be. This is the first time Sandry learns of the Western Namornese custom of bride kidnapping, which entails a man kidnapping a prospective bride and holding her captive until she agrees to sign a wedding contract. Gudruny explains that she came to Sandry for aid, as only a woman's liege lord or lady could sever a forced marriage. When Halmar Iarun, Gudruny's husband, arrives early the next morning, Sandry severs the marriage before almost the entirety of the household, noble and common alike. This provides enough witnesses for the marriage to be officially severed, but she puts it in writing in any case.
Sandry, Ambros, Tris and a few guards leave the castle in order to view Sandry's estates. At the village of Pofkim, Tris uses her magic to fix the bank in order to avoid possible fatal accidents and the monetary expense. While on their way back, they are ambushed by a group of noblemen and men-at-arms who wish to kidnap Sandry and force her to sign a marriage contract. Sandry is livid, and uses her magic to get their clothes to fall off.
The empress hears of the incident from her spies and shares her disappointment with Ishabal that Jakuben fer Pennun and Finlach fer Hurich did not accompany Sandry so that they could be shown being brave in front of the kidnappers. She also warns Isha that she does not want what happened to Sandry's would-be kidnappers to happen to her. Isha warns Berenene that perhaps it is unwise to provoke the four, as it could force them to rejoin, but Berenene laughs off this advice. Isha keeps her further thoughts to herself but still believes that her empress is underestimating them all.
Return to Dancruan
The empress invites Sandry to return to the capital with them, and Sandry knows that it would highly offend if she refuses, so she returns with Gudruny and Zhegorz Fiavrus in tow. They do not stay at the Dancruan townhouse as before, but in fancy apartments in the palace. Tris is lent multiple books about Namorn in order to entice her to stay. She is also offered 500 argibs per annum—a huge sum in order to appeal to her merchant upbringing.
Daja begins a romantic tryst with Rizuka fa Dalach while there is a ball. As Sandry and Daja had opened their magical connection, Sandry feels it as if she herself were being kissed. She is dancing with Fin and desperately asks for a reprieve. She goes outside and is kissed by Pershan fer Roth which makes her even more flustered, as she comes back into the ballroom and dances with Jak without thinking.
Fin is angered and thinks Sandry meant to make a fool out of him. He decides to write to his uncle, Notalos fer Hurich, who has access to the floor plans of the Imperial Palace in order to make a kidnapping easier. At a reception to welcome the Lairanese ambassador, Fin begs the empress for the honor of escorting Sandry to the Hall. She allows it, but instead of taking Sandry down the proper route, he lies and takes her down another where he drugs her.
She wakes up in a dark box in the Julih Tunnel, spelled to keep her from accessing her magic. It is here when Fin tells her of his plans and informs her of Shan's liaison with the empress. He leaves for the ball, confident in his success. Sandry uses the thread circle to call to first Tris—which left a scorch mark on her power—and then Briar. He helps her break free with Tris's help and they demand an immediate audience with the empress. Sandry informs her imperial cousin that she will be returning to Emelan immediately.
Escape from Namorn
Ishabal places a curse to injure Tris and succeeds, believing that the four's confidence stems from their relationship to a powerful weather-mage while underestimating the other three. Tris urges them to leave without her and charges Zhegorz with their protection.
Zhegorz warns them of cryptic things involving plans for a wedding while on the way to the Olart border. While staying at the Canyon Inn, Sandry is kidnapped by Shan with the help of Quenaill Shieldsman. She bests Shan and his mages with her extremely powerful magic, Daja and Briar best Quen together, and Tris begins to make the very painful journey south so that she can help them defeat Ishabal.
When at the Olart border, Ishabal and a few Crown mages raise the border, an invisible wall of magic. They try to get through but are unsuccessful at first. They then decide to get out the thread circle and use that. With their immense power, they bring down the magical wall. Ishabal goes back to Berenene with her tail between her legs.
Briar, Tris, and Daja succeed in convincing Sandry to give over her lands and title to Ambros, who deserves them more than she for his work. She signs away her wealth in Namorn in order to avoid another fight with the empress. The four are officially reunited.
The Circle Reforged
The Circle Reforged refers to the four returning and renewing their old bond, as in the beginning of the book, they rejected doing so. The thread circle symbolizes their relationship over the quartets. The Circle of Magic refers to them creating that bond, and The Circle Opens refers to the four leaving each other and finding their own way in the world for a few years with their respective teachers. Sandrilene fa Toren remains in Summersea with her uncle, Vedris fer Toren; Briar Moss journeys to Chammur and Yanjing and gets caught in a brutal war which furthers his unwillingness to open the old bond; Daja Kisubo goes to the northern countries like Namorn, and is saddened to learn that she would be unable to stay at Discipline when she returns as a sixteen year old; Trisana Chandler visits Tharios and learns how to scry the winds—she fears her siblings' reaction so she does not tell them about her newfound ability. When they return to Summersea, they still see each other as siblings, although they refuse to open their old very powerful bond.
Sandry is the only one who seems to want to reopen that bond, at least at first when Daja returns in 1041 KF, when they are sixteen. But even she develops an unwillingness to truly reopen although she sets herself against her siblings in that respect. Daja doesn't reopen with Sandry because she is hurt that her foster-sister didn't tell her of the rule keeping them from living at Disclipline. Duke Vedris recognizes this as a bitter homecoming, and Daja buys herself an expensive house with rooms set aside for her siblings—even Sandry—although the young noble resides at Duke's Citadel. Tris is the second to return, and she is a bit apprehensive about opening their bond. She was exposed to criticism and even hatred for her abilities when other mages thought she wanted to be more than what she was. Thus, she wants to go to the University of Lightsbridge and study academic magic in order to avoid that scrutiny. Briar is the last to and latest to return, and he comes back when the four are all eighteen. He was in a brutal war with Gyongxe against Yanjing, and still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has nightmares about war events.
The four fight constantly at first, and it seems that they would be happy to go their separate ways with this tense atmosphere. Duke Vedris, however, has other plans. He wants Sandry's foster siblings to go with her to Namorn to protect her, thus forcing the four together again. They agree, but not for Sandry, as they all are indebted in some way to the Duke.
Over the course of the book, the four reconnect magically. Sandry and Daja are the first to do so, as they have a strong relationship from their past. Daja is also the most easygoing one of them, and so she is more likely to forgive Sandry of her micromanaging. Sandry reconnects with Briar when she is trapped by Finlach fer Hurich inside a magical box, who wants to force her to sign a marriage contract. Briar is angered at first, but then accepts the challenge and helping his sister. He reconnects with Tris easily and they go to free her. Daja reconnects with Tris after the latter is cursed by Ishabal Ladyhammer and is very injured. Daja and Briar then reconnect while magically fighting Quenaill Shieldsman. Thus all for have reinstated their bonds with the same powers as before. They are able to shield the other from things they don't want seen, however. In a battle on the border between Namorn and Olart, they use their thread circle to bring down a magical barrier. After defeating Isha and destroying the barrier, they find the thread has disappeared and has instead left a physical lump in each of their palms—which then sunk into their skin to create a visible mark. This shows that their magical bond is here to stay.
In the last scene, they are all brought to a dreamlike creation of Briar's of Discipline and they each share a secret they have been keeping. Briar shares a bit of his war past, Sandry shares that she killed two people to save her student which shocks them, Tris shares about her new abilities, and Daja talks about her disastrous friendship with Bennat Ladradun—a serial arsonist.
The Will of the Empress is the first book of the Circle Universe to have a romantic sub-plot. The previous books alluded to romantic relationships of adult characters, but none of the four main protagonists were shown to have specific romantic relationships besides some interest. Sandry, although she lived at her uncle's court for years, had mild flirtations but turned down any serious pursuits for her hand. Briar was shown flirting with a few Chammuran girls, like Ayasha.
Empress Berenene was frustrated that Sandry wouldn't be so easily wooed into staying in Namorn, but was confident with Briar. Sandry ignores the two young men chosen by the empress to court her, and develops feelings for Pershan fer Roth, the handsome Master of the Hunt. Shan is the first person for whom Sandry has romantic feelings. Briar has no romantic relationships but quite a few sexual ones with no strings attached as he needs someone to be in his bed in order to sleep and keep away the nightmares. Briar is clearly sexually attracted to women, but he may not have any romantic feelings (aromantic).
Daja, although she kissed one boy before in Gansar, never felt real romantic feelings for men. She developed feelings for Rizuka fa Dalach, the Mistress of the Wardrobe, and grew a very strong attachment. Their sexual relationship occurred quickly and was not a secret to her foster-siblings. Daja wishes that her foster-siblings would accept Rizu, but Briar and Tris are both reluctant while Sandry welcomes her with open arms. When Daja prepares to leave Namorn she asks Rizu to return to Emelan with her and is heartbroken by her refusal.
Social and political commentary
The Will of the Empress deals with several topics that mirror social and political discourse in the real world.
One of the most notable is the topic of bride kidnapping that is a theme throughout the novel. The view on bride kidnapping mirrors real world views on rape and sexual assault in terms of blaming the victim for the occurrence. Berenene dor Ocmore, despite having been a victim herself, sees that women who did not escape like she did as beneath her notice and that they deserve their fates. Ambros fer Landreg made an uncomfortable statement when Sandry was discussing the custom and blamed her for judging all Namornese men for the actions of a few—like what occurs in discussions of rape culture in the real world. Ealaga countered this by asking her husband of what else she was supposed to do, as women have so little freedom because of this custom. They truly do teach their daughters to treat all men as possible predators for safety reasons—and that it is necessary to treat all men as such. Briar hoped that Ambros would change his mind about the custom because of Ealaga's comment.
- Sandrilene fa Toren is one of the four young mages and a powerful noblewoman with a large inheritance in Namorn. Traps are set for her in the country so she would have to remain, despite her unwillingness. She is a powerful thread mage and the keeper of the thread circle. She is very politically savvy and her uncle looks to her as one of his top people.
- Daja Kisubo is a metal mage. She is incredibly wealthy due to her living metal workings and is able to buy a large home for her and her siblings. She is a nisamohi (a lesbian).
- Trisana Chandler is a weather mage who has learned to scry the winds. She keeps it a secret due to how other people treat her. She is more ostentatious than her siblings, and the empress believes she is the only major threat and the reason why they are all so confident. She and Briar take in Zhegorz Fiavrus off the streets.
- Briar Moss suffered a war while abroad and has nightmares because of it which is one of the main reasons why he doesn't wish to reconnect with his foster-sisters. Empress Berenene wants him to stay because of his skill as a plant mage.
The Imperial Court
- Berenene dor Ocmore is the main antagonist of the book and the Empress of Namorn. Berenene always gets her way, not matter how.
- Ishabal Ladyhammer is the titular character of the book as she is known as the "empress's will". Ishabal is a curse-weaver of immeasurable skill and a close adviser of the empress.
- Pershan fer Roth has set his sights on Sandry, the wealthy countess with imperial blood. One small problem: he's the empress's current lover. If he succeeds, Berenene would have to respect him. If he fails, his time at Court and in imperial favor is done for good. Will he get his way through fair means or foul?
- Quenaill Shieldsman was the past lover of Berenene and is jealous of Shan. He is dedicated to the empress's safety, however, and ensures that no one gets close enough to kill. Will Quen's allegiance be turned in the end?
- Finlach fer Hurich was one of the two young noblemen chosen by the empress to woo Sandry. He knows that the empress expects success, no matter how that success is reached.
- Jakuben fer Pennun was another of the two young noblemen chosen to court Sandry. He knows that either he or Jak is expected to be married to Sandry by the end of the year, but is he prepared to dishonor her by capturing her hand through foul means?
- Rizuka fa Dalach is the Mistress of the Robe, and has imperial favor. The empress has given her an important place and a different life, and she owed much to her. When Rizu falls in love with one of the four mages, can she be persuaded to choose love over the position she has earned?
- Caidlene fa Sarajane is a flirtatious lady-in-waiting of the empress who has her sights set on Briar Moss.
- Vedris fer Toren
- Erdogun fer Baigh
- Niklaren Goldeye
- Evumeimei Dingzai
- Pasco Acalon
- Halmar Iarun
- Dymytur fer Holm
- Yeskoy fer Haugh
- House Bancanor
- Notalos fer Hurich
- Saghad Gurkoy
Notes and references
- ↑ The Will of the Empress, Cp. 2 (p. 39; Scholastic)
- ↑ This is a bit of an inconsistency since in Cold Fire Sandry had written to Daja about the events of Magic Steps and the aftermath.
- ↑ The Will of the Empress, early chapters