The first book in the Circle Reforged series is heartbreakingly wonderful. After years of separation, Briar, Daja, Sandry, and Tris are reuniting and they’re all bringing new baggage to their friendship. Briar has been through a war, the memories colouring his thoughts and dreams. Daja feels betrayed by Winding Circle and deserted by Frostpine now that she is an accredited mage and no longer able to live at Discipline. Sandry feels her foster-siblings left her behind to have grand adventures and are now shutting her out. Tris has learned that the sheer magnitude and rarity of her magic and her ability leads to isolation and anger from other mages and fear from those without magic. Afraid to find out how her foster-siblings would react, she instead keeps to herself.
The fractured relationship of these four young mages after years apart is excruciating, especially when you remember how close they were in the Circle of Magic series. It would’ve been too unrealistic to have them come back and fall right back into the same patterns after everything they had been through and how long they were separated. It didn’t keep me from wanting to go right back to one big happy family. Thankfully, Duke Vedris is around to get everyone moving in the right direction.
I found the meandering nature of this story to be excellent. We really get to spend time with all four mages and seeing how they act towards each other and outsiders. They get to demonstrate their new knowledge and skills, and they get to work together again. It was a bit frustrating that Daja seems to have been almost cut from the narrative after learning new information about herself and exploring a new avenue. Sure, there were a lot of other exciting things going on at the time but it didn’t seem right to just cut her out and forget about her for a few chapters. It was also annoying that, once again, Sandry suddenly seems to be acting incredibly out of character for who we know her to be. So many instances of her being a through-and-through noble, not thinking of others even when they’re family, and choosing to take all the good parts of being a noble and pushing off all the responsibilities on to others. Luckily her foster family is around now to point her in the right direction, and even push her a little when she seems hesitant. Tris keeps getting better and better for me as we work through the Emelan universe and she is the most well-rounded and complex character in The Will of the Empress. No longer the short-tempered caricature of a storm mage with no control, she has some serious depth and awareness now.
Everything I didn’t know I wanted in this reunion, The Will of the Empress was surprising and wonderful.