This is a story about Tris, Briar, Sandry, and Daja. They met when they were ten year olds (in the Circle of Magic quartet) and became like brother and sisters. When they were fourteen they parted ways -- three of them traveling in different directions, one staying put. (The Circle Opens quartet tells about their adventures during this time.) In The Will of the Empress they are eighteen, and the three traveling return home.
So they are now young adults, and have gone four years without seeing each other. Naturally, they've changed. Due to their time spent apart and the ways they've changed, they aren't as close as they used to be, and there's some tension between them.
Spoilers after this point
In the beginning of the book all they do is squabble. As I mentioned in a previous post where I talked briefly about this book, I found it extremely tiresome. And the reasons behind being irritable with each other don't seem like good enough reasons to argue with each other so much. They continue squabbling for perhaps the first quarter of the book. It continues some after that, but the four begin to calm down. Of course, it helps that they find a common foe. (The empress, who's used to getting what she wants.)
I've got to say, Pierce is lucky that I kept on reading. The squabbling between four young adults was so annoying that I was just short of considering putting the book down. I'm sure other of Pierce's fans did put the book down, and never picked it up again.
Once the four youngsters did start to get along with each other, I started to really enjoy the book. The old and familiar characters were fun to read about (once they started behaving like adults), and the new onces were interesting. It was also nice to see the four become a "circle" again, and use their "circle of magic" in concert to thwart a foreign empress who wants them to become her pet mages.
On a different note...
Making certain characters homosexual. In particular, two adults, Rosethorn and Lark. I don't mind the fact that Pierce announced in this book that those two are lesbians (truthfully I've wondered if those two were romantically involved with each other in earlier books, something that still isn't clarified), but rather how she did it.
When you're going to reveal a new aspect of old and familiar characters, there are ways to do it, and ways not to do it. For example, a good way to do it would be for one of their friends to catch Rosethorn and/or Lark kissing another female. Or maybe one of these two could be talking to the young adults about relationships, and mention one of their own female lovers, and it come out that way. There are plenty of other ways to bring the subject up, and show reader this aspect of Rosethorn and Lark.
But what Pierce does is just mention in passing that these two are homosexual, as though it were a detail from a previous book that her readers should already know. That got me a little irritated, because it's not something that is ever said (or even implied) in the prior books, despite my speculation about the two being lovers.
And then there's Daja, who at age eighteen finally figures out that she's lesbian. Her own romantic sub-plot is rather sweet, and I liked it. But...
...is it realistic for someone to not figure out their sexuality until they're eighteen years old? I keep asking myself this question, and I honestly don't know. I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this point.
Overall, I give this book three out of five stars. It's pretty much an ok book, but the squabbling between the four young adults was too annoying. I also dislike how Pierce revealed a new side of old characters without working up to it. Don't get me wrong, the book does have its good points. They're just overshadowed by these annoying points.