[This is a spoiler-free review, however I may allude to some events from other Tortall-based series – particularly The Immortals quartet, to which this book is a prequel.]
Numair Salmalín is one of the world of Tortall’s most powerful mages, but at the age of 11 – then a student at the Lower University of Carthak, and going by his birth name, Arram Draper – he was only just beginning to learn the magic that would help him so much in later years. Talented, but frequently in trouble with his instructors, Arram’s life is changed forever when he is befriended by the charismatic Prince Ozorne and his lovely friend Varice, now two of the University’s brightest students, but who will eventually go on to become the dreaded Emperor Mage and his head of entertainment.
This is the first book in a new trilogy called The Numair Chronicles, which acts as a prequel to the Immortals quartet by explaining the history of one of its most prominent but enigmatic characters: Numair, and focuses on events that are alluded to parts of that series, but never really explained in much detail. The nostalgia comes across very strongly in this book, with plenty of cameos from the original series, including one particularly great one that snuck up on me (the gladiator Musenda, who I had thought was a new character, but was suddenly revealed later on to be a familiar face), and although the young Arram is very different from his older counterpart, we can clearly see his character being shaped over the course of this book, from his growing doubts about remaining in Carthak, to his fascination with obscure magic that many more academic mages refuse to believe in…
That said, the story itself is quite fragmented. There’s no strong overarching plot, and there doesn’t seem to be much indication of one to come in the later books. What there is is a few strong story arcs, such as a brief murder mystery towards the end, and a couple of vaguely medical-drama-y sections, while the bulk of the novel concentrates on character and relationship development. There’s also quite a bit of political intrigue, but it’s focused on Ozorne rather than Arram, and so mostly stays in the background.
(An aside: Of these mini-arcs, I probably enjoyed the medical sections the most. My favourite Pierce books are actually the Emelan-based ones, and of those, I like Briar’s stories the best – something that I’d assumed was primarily because I like Briar. But although I do really like his character, reading this book has also driven home for me just how good Pierce is at writing engrossing historical sickroom-based stories.)
While I do hope that there will be a stronger plotline in the sequels to Tempests and Slaughter, I also found that the slow start to the series really gave me time to get to know these characters in their present incarnations, while still providing enough interesting action to keep me engaged throughout the book. After all, most readers will know how things are going to turn out for Arram before they even open the book, and the interest in reading it is seeing all the little things that lead up to that point. Perhaps there will also be one giant straw that breaks the figurative camel’s back (in the form of an overarching story), but even if there isn’t, I think that more of what Tempests and Slaughter has already offered will be enough for me to love this series. 💕
[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]