If you’ve read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe stories, the name Numair Salmalin may sound familiar. As the chief mage of the king of Tortall, he’s immensely powerful, highly skilled, well educated, and deeply intelligent. His major character flaw, however, is his tendency to speak and act (and react) first and suffer the consequences later.
Tempests and Slaughter, isn’t about Numair Salmalin. It’s about a young, common born boy named Arram Draper. We first meet him as an adorably awkward ten-year-old who is also one of the youngest students of the Imperial University of Carthak in the Lower Academy for Youthful Mages and follow him into his early teens to the end of his first year in the Upper Academy.
This means, essentially, that very little in the way any action or plot really happens. The story Pierce tells is still interesting and engaging—to someone who already knows and likes the central character. Someone unfamiliar with the author’s work, however, may find the premise of “Let’s watch little Arram Draper grow up to become the Great Mage Numair Salmalin!” something akin to saying “Hey, let’s watch paint dry!” I’d recommend picking up The Immortals series first, where he’s introduced as the lead character’s mentor and eventual leading man. Of course, that may also highlight the story’s tendency to seem like one long stream of foreshadowing.
The world-building was wonderfully vivid, which was surprising given that most of the book plays out in the University with occasional forays into the surrounding city and its gladiatorial arena. The tale is also only ever told from Arram’s point of view, but the reader still gets a clear, colorful, and detailed idea of what life in the Carthak Empire is like for its citizens and other inhabitants from the people he meets—from the lowest of slaves to the Imperial family.
This brings me to a word of caution for sensitive or very young readers (this is a YA novel)—Pierce does not shy away from the blood and brutality of the Games. She doesn’t dwell on the gore and violence, but she is matter-of-fact about it.
Speaking of people Arram meets, most of the characters in the admittedly limited cast feel like people—Pierce’s characterizations are nicely fleshed out and realistic. A few characters come across as a little over the top <coughChiokecough> but overall, the book’s characters were quite well done, with flaws and quirks as well as strengths and virtues.
Tempests and Slaughter was enjoyable to me, but I’ve read most of the Tortall stories. Anyone else interested in Arram/Numair’s tale who are new to Tamora Pierce’s writing might be better served starting with something written earlier.
Title: Tempests and Slaughter
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books