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The World: The Immortals books take place in Tortall, but it’s been several years since Alanna became a knight. Jonathan and Thayet are married, as are Alanna and George. Both couples have popped out a couple kids, and, oh yeah, these totally crazy monsters called Immortals are invading Tortall, followed by raiders from Carthak and the Copper Isles.

Immortals are beings that, short of death in battle, would live forever. Some of the creatures are recognizable to the reader like centaurs (of the vicious and peaceful variety) and winged horses (same). Some are are completely new, like Stormwings (Immortals with the head and torso of a human and steel wings and talons) and Spidrens (gigantic creepy-ass spiders with human heads).

By the way, you’re welcome for the fact that I’m not posting any fan-art of these creatures, so just use your imaginations. Spidrens are especially something I don’t want to visualize very closely–human head, spider body is enough for me.

The Plot: In the midst of all this war and carnage is 13-year-old Veralidaine Sarrasri (Daine for short), a girl with a curious knack for animals. Daine leaves her home country of Galla, just north of Tortall and lands a job with Onua, the woman who trains ponies for the Queen’s Riders–a group of elite men and women who fight bandits. Along the way, Daine encounters the mage Numair Salmalin, who tells Daine that she has more than just a “knack” for animals–in fact, Daine possesses a rare form of magic called Wild Magic, and Numair (as one of the only living experts on Wild Magic), intends to train Daine as a wildmage.

While Daine figures out her new powers, she must struggle to overcome the tragic events surrounding her family’s death. And that’s not all: when Immortals and pirates attack Lady Alanna’s home, with the Queen, her children, and all the riders inside, Daine must control her magic and use it to help fight for her new home.

The Characters: In addition to a plethora of character cameos (George! My one true love!), Pierce introduces a whole company of new characters in the Immortals books. Numair, Daine’s magic teacher; Mira and Evin, trainee Riders; Onua, an intelligent, no-nonsense horse-trainer and, of course, the gaggle of children spawned by Thayet, Jon, Alanna and George. It’s adorable to see the next generation of Tortallian heroes as children, especially since many of them become main characters in future books.

The Good: Like Alanna and Faithful, Daine has her share of spunky animal companions. By virtue of her magic, animals surround Daine on a near constant basis, but two animals stand out: Cloud and the Badger. Daine’s pony, Cloud, is like an older sister to Daine, and the Badger is an animal god who keep his eye on Daine from afar.

Numair, in the grand tradition of Tortallian men, is also a bonus factor here. He’s not George, by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s absentminded in an endearing sort of way. Pierce describes him as a tall, lanky man, and I can’t help but picture him getting tangled up in his own limbs. Plus when he calls Daine magelet (“little mage”) I just have to smile.

The cameos are also a serious bonus factor. I always think it’s odd to read cameos of former-protagonists in a new progagonist’s book. Sarah Dessen (another YA legend) does it constantly–though her cameos are more like Easter eggs. In Song of the Lioness, we were deep in Alanna’s head. We knew her hopes, her fears, and how much she loved swooning over Jonathan/George/Liam. But now, through Daine’s eyes, it’s like seeing Alanna (and George and the others) through a lens. We only see what Alanna shows Daine, and it’s tempered by Daine’s own reactions to Alanna.

The Bad: The adults tend to treat Daine like a child or like an adult, depending on their mood and what fits the needs of the story. This is especially frustrating when the third and fourth books roll along (especially the fourth) and Daine not only grows up, but her relationship with Numair is altered significantly.

The Verdict: I’m biased, because Daine is my favorite Tortall shero, so of course I’m going to come down on the side of this book. Wild Magic is fun and youthful–in keeping with a 13-year-old protagonists. Daine is also one of the few Tortallian protagonists who isn’t a warrior. She can fight–and she’s a good shot with a bow–but she doesn’t have the soldier mentality that Alanna and some of the later sheroes have, partly because of Daine’s huge capacity for empathy and compassion. Daine makes friends easily and she defends those friends with ferocity.

Plus, if you’re into animals, animal habitats and behavior, animal heath, animal anatomy… pretty much anything to do with animals, you’re in luck, because that’s half of what Numair teaches Daine.