Sandry’s Book (1997) is the first in Tamora Pierce‘s Circle of Magic quartet. (The foursome was recently followed with a sequel quartet called The Circle Opens.) The four books do tell a series of events, but work just as well when read out of order.
The story opens with four children in four equally bad situations. As their stories unfold, the children–the daughter of a duke, a young thief, a Trader and a girl with a connection to the weather so strange that her own family abandoned her. As their stories, and magical abilities, intertwine it becomes clear that these characters have more in common than readers (or the characters themselves) would have thought.
Eventually, the children are discovered by Niklaren “Niko” Goldeye (I have been enamored with his name since I read this book when I was fourteen, still stand by the assessment that it’s the best name ever). Adrift in their respective communities (or lack thereof), Niko takes them all to Winding Circle, a temple community where the children fall into a temple called Discipline where, finally, each of the four begin to find their place in the world.
Like any good fantasy, this book (and the series in general) features a lot of detail as Pierce builds a convincing world for her novel to inhabit. As a result, the story does describe the daily life and rituals of the temple. I had the misfortune of finding a negative review with the audacity to say that “Sandry’s Book” focused too much on the occult. Aside from being completely inaccurate (such information comes up IN RELATION to the plot not to create some pseudo-subversive book on witchcraft), I found the trepidation distasteful and on par with saying Harry Potter should be censored because Hogwarts trains witches. Plus, aside from that, the information–like the information in so many challenged books–is harmless and only serves to teach readers something new (as every good book should).
Moving on from the issue of censorship, why did I decide this was a CLW appropriate book?
Three of the four main characters are girls. Not the secondary-character-type girls that sometimes populate fantasy novels of this type (a specific example being A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin). No, these girls are strong-minded and tough–two of my favorite qualities for CLW book heroines. My personal favorite of the foursome is Tris, but Sandry is pretty cool too. A spunky noble, Sandry is an anti-princess discussion all by herself.
This book is one of the few that I feel could be solidy situated as a children’s novel (although given some recent YA titles I’ve encountered, an argument probably could be made to place it there). The plot is straightforward, and the writing cogent, which make it ideal for a younger audience who lacks the experience to follow a winding narrative. At the same time, Pierce creates a story that is engaging and action-packed for readers of any age. I haven’t gotten around to reading any of Pierce’s books outside this series, but if Sandry’s Book is any indication, I definitely should.