The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2005.
BookAdvice Book of the Month Nov 2006

In The Will of the Empress, Daja, Briar, and Tris come home to Emelan from their travels. They each return with dark secrets wondering if they will still be accepted and unwilling to open up their mental connection to each other. Though bickering as a result of their disconnection, Duke Vedris asks the 3 to accompany Sandry to her family's home in Namorn as Sandry's cousin, the Empress of Namorn, is demanding her presence. They know right away the Empress wants to keep Sandry there (by force if necessary), but they soon learn that she wants all of them to stay. Their connection is evetually reforged and strengthened by the conflicts with the Namornese which they face.

For me, there was a little too much court nonsense in the story, and the middle dragged as a result (maybe because Pierce's dealing with 4 people's reactions to court life). The excitement level does, however, pick up in the second half of the book. With the Namornese kidnapping law, it resembles a Victorian novel at times with the damsel in distress situation. It is handled fairly well, and there is a point to it. As usual the mages' abilities lend complexity to the story. Those enjoying the story will be thrilled.
For those who have not already read them, the 4 Circle Opens books (earlier books in series) are also excellent. See The Magic Circle Series entry. related-courts and courtiers, rulers, friendship

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