This is an awesome audiobook production! Tamora Pierce, the author, reads the narration, but all of the characters have different actors who voice them. And they do an awesome job! (Honestly, Tamora Pierce sounds a little stodgy, like she’s reading to a child, and you can tell she’s very deliberate with her words and annunciation. But hey, she’s not a voice actor, and it creates a noticeable difference between the narration and the actors. And you get used to it!) (In listening to the interview at the end of the series, that seems to be her normal voice. At least her normal ‘I’m being recorded’ voice!)
Daine (who I had been calling Diane) has always been good with animals. After her family is killed by bandits, she and her pony Cloud journey to find work. She finds it by becoming the assistant of Onua, the horsemistress to the Queen’s Riders. On the way to capitol city with a string of mountain ponies, the two encounter Stormwings, vile creatures with human heads and torsos but bird wings and legs made out of razor sharp metal. (Yes, they’re basically harpies.) These are Immortals, escaped from the Divine Realm where they had been imprisoned for 400 years. Daine finds a sick hawk that was being pursued by the Stormwings, and Onua says it is vitally important. Daine can’t seem to heal the bird, and starts to take it personally. Onua calls in her friend, Alanna the Lioness, who is a lady knight, mage, and the King’s Champion. It turns out Daine’s hawk was actually a very powerful mage called Numair Salmalín. Numair is the one who tells her that she has wild magic, and begins training her in controlling her talent.
Daine gets some occasional guidance from the Badger, who appears in her dreams and is actually the badger god. He says he agreed to look after her as a favor to her father, who she still does not know (but the reader has some suspicions). The Badger chews off one of his claws and gives it to Daine, who wears it as a talisman. He encourages her in her learning, and helps Daine with some fears and difficulties she has, as does Numair. Daine’s biggest fear is that she will lose herself in her magic and forget she is human, which has happened before.
Also, Sarge is my favorite! The actor who read for him NAILED IT! I’m kind of sad that he doesn’t really show up in any other books. (He’s around, apparently, just not in the books.) (Guys, he has a line or two in Book 4! Yay!)
We begin with Daine and Numair travelling to a remote valley fief Dunlath, on their way to aide some wolves that Daine is friends with. There’s shenanigans going on, and wolves rarely ask for help, and I suppose they didn’t have much else to do, so the two humans went to go investigate. Shenanigans may be a light term – there are bad things going down. Deforestation and mining and Stormwings and nasty winged horses with claws and fangs. One of Numair’s ‘friends’ from university is at the heart of it, and after Numair leaves to go warn the king, the entire valley is sealed off inside a magical dome, with Daine trapped inside. Oh snap! In trying to figure out what’s going on, Daine learns to send her mind into her animal friends, on the recommendation of the Badger. This has some unforeseen consequences. She also gains some new friends along the way: Maura, the eleven year-old sister of the (bitchy) lady of the manor, Tkaa, a basilisk (but not the Harry Potter kind – he can turn things to stone, but he’s an intelligent lizard rather than a snake,) Flicker, a squirrel, and along with some others. The dragonet that Daine inherited from the last book is also here. Her name is Skysong, but Daine calls her Kitten, or Kit. Daine cannot talk mind to mind with her, she is too young, but she can kind of interpret the noises she makes.
Daine is learning to rethink some of her old prejudices, especially concerning Stormwings. She hates them due to their natures (they are scavengers, and eat the dead bodies left in battle) and their general attitudes and such. But Maura seems to be friends with a flock of Stormwings, with Lord Rikash in particular, and to Daine’s astonishment he displays some affection for her. Daine’s prejudices are slowly easing, and as she matures her perspective of life gets a little broader.
Daine, Numair, Alanna, and a contingency from the Tortallan government are sent to Carthak for peace talks. On the way there, the Badger comes and tells Daine that this is a bad idea and to go home, and that the gods are not particularly pleased with Carthak and her emperor at the moment. Political obligations aside, Daine is on the trip specifically to try to heal the Emperor’s sick birds, so she’s set on going. Also, they’re practically there already, so they can’t exactly turn back! The Badger, on the advice from an unknown and unseen source, breathes on Daine to give her an unknown ‘gift.’ She is not particularly pleased about it.
En route to the capitol via a river barge, Daine leaps into crocodile-infested waters to save a small marmoset monkey that a young boy had lost hold of in a tantrum. Daine names him Zekoi after the river she saved him from. Once in the palace, Daine is awed by the display of wealth and finery. The Emperor Mage has mad money, and insists on showing off. (Oh, and Numair and the Emperor Ozorne used to be besties when they were boys, but had a falling out that involved Numair being thrown in the dungeons and eventually escaping to Tortall.) In the palace we meet Lindhall Reed, Numair’s friend and teacher, and Varice Kingsford, Numair’s former lover. Daine is all about the former, but is not thrilled with the latter. (Also, Daine is 15. She’s dressing up for the formal occassions, and Numair comments on how pretty she is. She brushes the comments off as silly, but they do affect her a little.)
Prince Kaddar, the Emperor’s nephew and heir and 16, has been tasked with keeping Daine occupied (because, you know, peace talks are boring.) He seems to be more rational than his uncle, and disapproves of many of his actions and policies. He seems nice enough. One of my favorite parts involves Daine and the prince going to visit his friends in the archery training yards. The boys are joking about northern female warriors, and looking at Daine like she’s a piece of meat, but Daine quickly shuts them down with a demonstration of her mad archery skillz. Girl power! On the other end of the spectrum, Numair gives Prince Kaddar the good old shovel talk, much to Daine’s embarrassment. (You know, the ‘you see this shovel? I’ll be using it to dig your grave if you mess with her, and if not me, than all of these other important people’ talk.)
Oh, and we discover who suggested the Badger’s gift. We meet said someone, and Daine gets very irritated with her. Halfway through the book and I’m still not all that sure of the practicality of her gift, but whatevs. I’m sure it’ll make sense in a bit. There are shenanigans going on in Carthak, and things are getting weird, and Daine is in the middle of it. Instead of freaking out, she’s just kind of pissed off. I mean, she is freaking out, but her irritation is greater.
OMG you guys, shit just went down! Things just got really bad really fast. Daine gives no fucks when she’s pissed off. And she’s severely pissed off. We find out what her mysterious gift was for, and Daine uses it in her own way. And the thing you thought would happen happens, because of course it does.
The Realm of the Gods
This is the final book in the quartet, and there are parts that are absolutely adorable. Ozorne is still around, and he has different powers and allies now. While Daine and Numair are fighting some new baddies that they can’t really handle on their own, they get pulled into the Divine Realms by Daine’s parents. Weiryn, her father, is a lesser God of the Hunt, and is a little miffed that Daine won’t eat game anymore. She argues that since she’s been those animals, and has been hunted, she just can’t. Her mother is now also a goddess, and while Daine loves her mother, she knows her faults. Sarra is a bit… flighty? Airheaded? She’s good at what she does (healing and childbirth) but not the most practical in other matters.
We meet some new creatures called Darkings. They first appear to be little amorphous blobs of black ink, but they begin to change. And they’re absolutely adorable. They may seem cuter due to their voices in the audiobook, but I totally want one.
The romantic tension between Daine and Numair that picked up in the last book gets somewhat resolved. They don’t hide it anymore, but there’s the age difference (Daine is 16 and Numair is 27). Also, Numair has been, er, ‘connected’ with several ladies in the court. The man knows his way around, is what I’m sayin’. He doesn’t want to be the creepy older dude taking advantage of his young female student. But they are totes in love, so he’s being dumb. Also, she has many human and animal friends who would totally kick Numair’s ass if he were to ‘take advantage’ without Daine’s consent.
Oh, and there’s an overall struggle between the Great Gods and the the Queen of Chaos. If the Queen of Chaos were to escape, then all life would end, or something like that. Badness would happen. And Daine somehow has to help fix it. Because reasons. Oh, and we get to meet more dragons!
Throughout the series, Daine is usually very understanding of creatures and their natures. She knows that creatures cannot help being what they are and have to obey their nature, and they should not be blamed for that. She’s rational about almost every creature except Stormwings, even though she’s learned to accept Rikash and his flock. Her prejudiced attitude about them gets kind of annoying. Once Rikash explains their creation story, Daine starts to see them in a new light.
Speaking of annoying, Tamora Pierce seems to pick and choose if she’s going to call things by their proper names. Stormwings I can kind of get instead of Harpies, because they’re kind of different. But with the dinosaurs in the last book, they were not called by the names we know them as. The names assigned are names that children might assign to them before learning what they are. I think the worst is the platypus. There’s an animal god Broad Foot, and he is clearly a duck-billed platypus. What name is given to his species? Duckmole! What the hell, man? What’s wrong with platypus? And most animal gods seem to have names. The Badger doesn’t. Or does he have one and Daine never asked? How rude! (Oh, wait, he does in the first book, but he claims humans couldn’t pronounce it. My bad, I forgot 😛 )
In an interview with Tamora Pierce at the end of the last audiobook, we learn some interesting things. The Darkings are Tamora Pierce’s favorite creatures, because they’re awesome. The side characters sometimes surprised her. And the actors who read for Daine and Numair apparently did not read ahead, and were quite surprised at their physical relationship lol.
OMG, and apparently Numair was originally based on Gene Simmons (who Tamora thinks is hot), and then replaced him with young Jeff Goldblum when she started writing and realized that Gene Simmons would be terrifying. Daine is based on Trini Alvarado (who played Meg in Little Women, and also reads for Alanna in another company’s audiobook!), and Ozorne was based on Ozzy Osborne in the Shot in the Dark video. I liked the interview at the end, it added a little something to the whole experience.