So, here we are, caught up to Pierce’s writing after twenty months of reviews. Tempests and Slaughter, published by Tamora Pierce in 2018, tells the story of Numair’s early years in Carthak. We see Numair meet Varice and befriend Ozorne, while knowing where that story will end. But Tempests and Slaughter winds up being a story that is more tolerable than excellent. I still read it in one day, but it’s not a standout.
Spoiler Warning for Tempests and Slaughter as well as all of Pierce’s previous works.
So, What Happened?
The book opens with ten-year-old Arram Draper, who had been skipped a couple of ‘grades’ and feels isolated. He attends the gladiator games with his visiting father and grandfather. He falls in and is rescued by an elephant and a slave named Musenda. His magic flares up so the heads of the university place him in advanced classes. He quickly befriends Ozorne and Varice in those classes, even rooming with Ozorne.
From there, Arram progresses rapidly through the Lower Academy, learning both academic and tribal magic. Arram assists one of his teachers in repairing the gladiator pit, where he meets Musenda again. One of his teachers introduces him to the crocodile god of the Zekoi river, Enzi. He and Varice meet Ozorne’s mother, who reveals she expects her son to avenge his father’s death at the hands of the Sirajit, who Ozorne also hates.
Then, the three of them move to the Upper Academy, with more complicated classes. One of Ozorne’s cousins, a son of the emperor, is killed. Enzi brings Arram a sunbird he accidentally kidnapped from the Divine Realms and asks him to raise it while he finds a suitable gift for Mithros. Arram finds this tolerable and names her Preet. His studies split between tribal and healing magic, to the point where he is conscripted during a plague to strengthen the herbs he grinds. He meets Musenda again and helps entertain the nieces and nephews he cares for.
One of his teachers, Faziy, leaves and is murdered, with suspicious timing, since another imperial heir dies, leaving the emperor only one son remaining. Ozorne gets guards. Numair’s healing training progresses, and he helps his teacher with two weeks at the gladiator pits. Ozorne visits the back secretly and is held hostage by a gladiator. Numair saves him. Varice and Numair begin a relationship.
The Tolerable and Good
Pierce Expands Her Feminism
One of the best things to come out of Tempests and Slaughter is the fact that it’s entirely in a male point of view. For the previous eighteen novels, and in her collection of short stories, Pierce developed female main characters, which is fabulous. But feminism isn’t just about women’s issues, though there are those that want to restrict it to that. Modern day feminism also puts forward and makes efforts at addressing men’s issues as well. Some examples include helping unpack toxic masculinity and knowing that men can be sexually assaulted and abused.
Thus Pierce, utilizing a male point of view character, expands her feminism. She treats Arram just the same as she treated Alanna, Daine, Kel, and the rest. One of the ways that she does this lies in her treatment of puberty. For Alanna and the rest, there was a scene, or several, where they went through puberty and had a discussion of sex and birth control with a trusted female companion. In Tempests and Slaughter, we see Pierce depicting the male side of puberty. Ozorne is actually the one that gives him The Talk, despite only being three years older, because Arram came to him with questions.
Pierce also maintains the level of feminism in Numair’s teachers being both female and male. Plus, all of his teachers, with the exception of Lindhall, are people of color. In addition, his teacher in healing turns out to be gay and married. When Arram finds out, his only reaction is, “I didn’t know he was married,’ he whispered. ‘Forgive my bad manners.” (p. 224). Overall, this depiction of Carthak proves more compassionate than what we see in Emperor Mage.
Exceedingly Tolerable References
One of the things that Tempests and Slaughter does exceedingly well is in how Pierce references her other novels and the events of the future. Throughout the novel, we see Murugasami as a slave, a gladiator, and someone Arram deeply sympathizes with. Given how often he shows up, he clearly becomes someone important. Pierce proves this towards the end of the novel, with a throwaway line of dialogue. “Mithros guard us all, Musenda! Or may I still call you Sarge?” (p. 407). The next few lines mention his carrying voice, and, combined with the knowledge of Wild Magic, make the conclusion simple. Now we know that Numair knew Sarge before he escaped Carthak and joined the Queen’s Riders.
Beyond the people that we see, Pierce also makes references in the authors that Arram, his fellow students, and his teachers throw around. Farmer Cooper, from Mastiff, wrote a book on poisons and their detection that one of Ozorne’s bodyguards recommends to Varice. His descendant, Rosto Cooper the Younger, wrote a book Arram purchased at ten. Ozorne’s library contains a book written by Si-Cham, Thom’s Mithran teacher. These little nods make fine easter eggs for Pierce’s readers, and re-center you in the chronology.
In addition, seeing how others treat Varice makes her lament at the end of Emperor Mage more poignant. There she talks about how she likes cooking and making things pretty, and she proves exceedingly defensive of her career choice. Through the book, people constantly refer to Varice as a ‘’kitchenwitch”(p. 142) and denigrate her. Even though she keeps up and occasionally surpasses Numair and Ozorne in their studies. Varice retorts and points out how important and dangerous a ‘mere’ kitchenwitch can be in provisioning and preparation. She fights back against the devaluation of women’s work.
What is Not Tolerable and Uncomfortable
Pierce’s Lack of Plot
Considering we just came from the intricately plotted Beka Cooper books and plot dense short stories, the lack of plot frustrates the reader. All through Tempests and Slaughter Pierce gives us snippets and questions, but they never really coalesce into a coherent plot. So many threads come close, like Musenda’s enslavement, or what happens to Preet, or who killed Ozorne’s cousin.
Given how often Musenda appears in the novel I was convinced he would escape in this book. But after the reveal that we already knew Musenda, nothing else happens.
Something similar happens with Preet. Enzi warned Arram to keep the knowledge of Preet’s species secret, because Mithros protects sunbirds overzealously. Soba castigates the god fiercely when she finds out. Another professor even advises him to seek shelter in Minoss’s court if Mithros discovers Arram’s guardianship. Given just how many times it comes back, a trial seemed inevitable. But Preet ends the novel with Arram.
Finally, Pierce convinced me that the plot related to the death of Ozorne’s cousin. No thunder appeared in the storm at the capital that sank Stiloit, and Arram finds no lightning snakes there either. They react violently to the suggestion of being contained the next time he sees them. Ozorne tells Arram to forget lightning snakes later, “You, me, Chioke – and Faziy. And she’s dead. … That was in Uncle’s report, too,” (p. 378). He blames Faziy. But his other teachers tell him to be vary of Chioke, and the mystery remains unsolved. Was it Chioke, Faziy, or bad luck?
We don’t get closure. Pierce wrote similar novels, but with Alanna and Kel she also included an overarching plot—Kel’s fight against bullies, or Alanna’s disguising herself as a girl. That kept the interest up. But Tempests and Slaughter doesn’t have that.
Medicines and Mental Illness
The other problem latent in Tempests and Slaughter comes from the depiction of Ozorne and his mother. Early on in the book, Ozorne starts to lose his temper and seems to enter a panic attack while around Arram and Varice. Master Chioke comes in, and gives him a dosage of medicine. Chioke tells them that the medicine will improve his mood.
“Two days later they were surprised at supper by a cheery Ozorne. ‘It’s still raining,’ he announced as if he hadn’t been dark and gloomy for weeks. … Arram and Varice both sighed in relief. Arram never remembered to ask Varice if she had seen the glow in Chioke’s medicine.” (p. 74).
Chioke re-doses Ozorne several more times through the years. Despite all that, Arram and the reader never find out what it does.
Additionally, we find out that Ozorne’s mother seems to be moderately depressed, with good days and bad days. As the years go by, “Arram saw magic swirl faintly in the liquid as the woman knelt beside the princess and wrapped her hand around the cup. … I understand I have you to thank for this.’ She waved her free hand toward the pitcher.” (p. 271).
Both of them are depicted as having mental illness. Ozorne’s remains unspecified, and his mother remains consumed by grief for her husband, and furious at anything with the connection to Siraj. She accused Numair of being descended from the Sirajit before she takes the medicine. There are some unfortunate implications there, one being that people with mental illness are bigoted, seen especially from his mother’s example.
The other unfortunate implication is that people with mental illness are evil. Given the ambiguity with Ozorne’s medicine, Pierce allows the possibility that Ozorne’s mental illness causes his bargain with Chaos and his hatred of Tortall.
Overall, I enjoyed Tempests and Slaughter, and I look forward to the day when Pierce publishes the sequel. Hopefully, the problems with the lack of plot and the lack of specificity and blaming mental illness will be removed during the course of that book. The references that Pierce included made it an engaging read, and her feminism expands once again.
Finally, I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me through the course of these nineteen books and twenty months. Looking back at the beginning, where Pierce’s writing and philosophy were underdeveloped, it’s amazing how far she and we have come in this time.
When she publishes her next book, this series will resume, but for now, thank you for your time. If you’ve enjoyed this unpacking of Pierce’s feminism, please leave a comment below.