Daja and her instructor Frostpine leave their home at Winding Circle, so Daja might be exposed to other smiths and metalworkers in the world, both magical and mundane. They find themselves the guests of one of Frostpine’s friends and his family, the Bancanours. Frostpine assists the local police mage on tracking down the person responsible for creating forgeries of the local currency and Daja stumbles upon the innate magic of the two Bancanour twin girls, Nia and Jory. As was set up in previous books, the responsibility of initial training and locating instructors for the young mages falls on Daja’s shoulders. However, she is distracted by aiding local fireman Ben in putting out a series of fires in the town. Daja and Ben both believe the fires are being set intentionally, and Daja must find the culprit before tragedy strikes.
Overall, this one was fine. I enjoyed Daja as an instructor. Her two young students, though twins, approach magic in nearly opposite ways, and Daja struggles to meet both of them where they are. It was enjoyable to work through that struggle with Daja and to see her come out a stronger person for it. Unlike in the first two books of this series though, Daja’s students’ magic does not play a big role in any of the major plot points which feels like a missed opportunity to further explore and expand on magic. Pierce does build out the world a little more with some discussion of the various deities and religious beliefs, but she stops just short of diving into the real impact of those beliefs.
I also really enjoyed the idea of the antagonist of the novel having a hero or guardian angel complex. An interesting idea to float to young readers in order to explore the nuance of intentions versus impact, but there weren’t enough moments with the antagonists’ thoughts to find that nuance.
This book, overall, felt like Pierce was trying to correct for the violence of the first two books but let the pendulum swing too far the other way. It felt like there were hardly any stakes in this book which is odd considering that the characters were dealing with fire after fire. Sure, Pierce discusses the effects of surviving a fire such as coughing and suffering from damaged lungs, but everything is brushed over with broad strokes. To go from literally ripping a person into shreds and having their blood splatter walls in the first book, to growing vines and thorns so strong and sharp that they pierce through a man and kill him to the lack of violence and gore in this book felt out of place.