Daine's knack with horses gets her a job helping the royal horsemistress drive a herd of ponies to Tortall. Soon it becomes clear that Daine's talent, as much as she struggles to hide it, is downright magical. Horses and other animals not only obey, but listen to her words. Daine, though, will have to learn to trust humans before she can come to terms with her powers, her past, and herself.
Wild Magic begins the second quartet featuring the land of Tortall. Although there are some familiar names in this novel - cameos from the Alanna quartet, such as Alanna herself, Jonathan and Thayet, George - a newcomer to the Tortall world could start here with absolutely no problems.
The level of reading is eight plus, I'd say. There are occasional moments of violence, as you'd expect from events in a feudal country that is beginning to descend into war, but nothing that I'd be worried about a younger reader encountering.
Wild Magic is a very good novel in terms of feminism. The central character, Daine, is living her life without any direction from a man. She is independent, stubborn, loyal and simply fantastic to read about. Within the novel you also have the Riders, a military force that accepts women. The Queen of Tortall, Thayet, is easily the equal of Jonathan (the King) and shares all the duties of the monarchy. Thayet and Buri helped to create the Riders, and still assist with the instruction of the new trainees. And, of course, Alanna is the Lady Knight. In every walk of life, in every instance, Tamora Pierce introduces a world where sex is not important when considering what is achievable. The men and the women are equals in every respect. This, for me, is an exceptionally healthy attitude to bring to a novel that younger readers will enjoy. I only wish there was more enduring and potent feminist fantasy fiction like this.
Alongside this feminist angle, Wild Magic's principle 'lesson' is that people can be accepted, no matter their background or beliefs. I would be very happy if my daughter or niece (or son or nephew) were reading this take on life. It is a strong message, and one that can't be taught too soon.
The plot within Wild Magic is very much an introductory piece - we come to know Daine and the people around her, principally, but there are hints towards what is to come in the other three books of the quartet. (Interestingly, Tamora Pierce has celebrated J K Rowling's impact on the world of children's and YA fiction, in terms of making publishers realise that books don't need to always be 200 pages or less. She says that, if the Daine quartet were published nowadays, it would be a duology instead). Wild Magic can be read as a complete story, but you would miss much of the overall plot if you didn't then move onto Wolf Speaker.
Pierce's greatest strength when writing is a real ear for dialogue. A book can falter, no matter how strong the story is, if the dialogue feels stilted and unrealistic. Here, it is easy to speak the dialogue aloud, and have it sound as though real people would be saying it, including the little idiosyncrasies of speech and differences in dialect.
Wild Magic would find great favour with girls who love horses as well. Daine owns (or, rather, is the human of) a pony called Cloud, and she gains a job looking after the horses of the Riders.
Personally, I love this story because it's pure old-fashioned magic and adventure, with a dash of mythology. The characters are collectively incredibly strong, and make you want to read on to find out more about them. The animal aspect - and Daine's wild magic - is just the icing on the cake, as far as I'm concerned.
I marvel a little at the fact that Tamora Pierce's novels about Tortall aren't more popular, in all honesty. They are, above all, fun, and I would encourage you to immediately seek them out, if you haven't already tried them. Wild Magic is a great place to start your journey.