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In Sandry's Book, Briar initially seems to be skeptical of not only his own magic, but the existence of magic in general (which, given its apparent prevalence in the world and at Winding Circle in particular, makes him somewhat of a Flat Earth Atheist.) For example, there's this moment when one of the initiates puts "Shackles of Air" on him:

Briar went still. Magic? But that's fakery! he thought, shocked. Then he looked down at his body. Fakery he couldn't see had glued his legs together and his arms to his sides.

Yet one book later, we see that he already had direct experience with magic before he came to Winding Circle:

Immediately he felt the burn of ordinary protection-spells running through his fingers. Softly he whispered the words of the standard canceling-spell that he'd had to learn by heart when he was four.

Is there any in-universe explanation for his surprise in the first book, or is it just a continuity error?

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It’s not likely to be a continuity error

I’m not quite sure what this means, or why it’s there. I can’t really explain it.

It doesn’t make much sense as a continuity error, because the prevalence of magic was established in that very book many times before that scene.

For example, Sandry knew that her room was hidden by magic:

“I’ll go crazy,” she said flatly. “When they come to rescue me, I’ll be raving mad.” She refused to admit that, with this room locked from the outside and hidden by magic, a rescue was hopeless.

Sandry’s Book

She talks about being “no mage,” so she knows what a mage is:

“I’m no mage,” she argued, resting her head on one hand. “I’m just a girl—a noble girl, worse yet. Like that maid said, ‘Good f’r naught but to be waited on and to marry.’ Good-for-naught, that’s me—”

Sandry’s Book

Tris was tested for magic:

“You were tested for magic?” he asked, his clipped voice abrupt. Why did this stranger taunt her? Her family would have put up with her oddities, if only she’d been proved to have magic, which might be turned to the profit of House Chandler. “By the most expensive mage in Ninver, if you must know. And he said I haven’t a speck of it.”

Sandry’s Book

What’s more, Briar himself acknowledges the existence of wizards in his narration before that scene:

Briar frowned. “Master” was a word for professors, judges, and wizards. The temples called women and men “dedicate.” Who was this man, anyway?

Sandry’s Book

For Pierce to forget that magic was commonplace while writing this, and then to remember it some pages later, boggles the mind.

Another half-explanation presents itself, but it’s not very satisfying.

Briar is dismissive of magic

The best explanation that I can think of is that Briar was dismissive of magic, even though he believed in it. We see this attitude, too, before the scene in question:

Niko cut some fish for himself, put it in his mouth, and chewed it carefully, without looking at his companion. When he’d swallowed, he added, “It’s also one of the two great schools of magic north of the Pebbled Sea. I studied at Lightsbridge, the university for mages, but in some ways I find the mages at Winding Circle more … open-minded.”

“Oh, magic, who cares?” Briar dug into his food, refusing to talk more until it was in his belly, where no one could take it from him. Plants from all over the world? What must that be like?

Sandry’s Book

Briar isn’t thinking “magic, how could that be?” but rather “magic, eh.” This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Mages are quite rare, and primarily retained by the rich and powerful, not homeless thieves. Magic likely hasn’t been all that useful to Briar (except when it gets in the way of him stealing things), so he doesn’t care about it much.

That said, this doesn’t constitute a full explanation. He might not have any regard for magic, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to call it fakery when, as already established a few pages earlier, he knows about wizards, and is unsurprised by mentions of schools of magic.

Even the obvious possibility, that “magic” in thieves’ jargon is used to refer to legedermain rather than actual magic, falls apart under both the later lines in that scene and his lack of confusion in the previous one.

One might also imagine that something similar is a frequent trick performed by con artists. While plausible, it seems a stretch to fit this to Briar’s thought process in this scene.

All that said, I’m still not sure why

Overall, I can’t think of any plausible reason for Briar to think this way. It’s not just shift over books, though, because the commonality of magic, and Briar’s very familiarity with it, was established many, many times in this very book, both before and after this scene.

The best possibility I can think of is that at one time in the writing process, this might have been a very different book. Perhaps Pierce was originally writing a book where familiarity was less common, and magic was more secret or much rarer. Perhaps she even started from that very scene—four very different people in a dormitory at a temple of magic.

Perhaps, over the course of expansion and revision, the world became something different from what Pierce had originally planned, but she (or her editor) simply didn’t catch this vestige of the old story.

  • Thinking about it, I wonder if it might be something like direct vs indirect magic - perhaps magic on an object to lock or hide was more common than direct magic on people or to grab something out of the air – Megha Sep 14 '17 at 1:30
  • Most likely, Academic vs Ambient magic. Academic magic is a thing of spells, potions, symbols, is what Tris was tested for, and is far more common than Ambient magic. Winding Circle on the other hand specializes in Ambient magic, where such things aren't necessary and the variety of effects is far greater. Niko at some point explains this to Tris. – Izkata Sep 14 '17 at 2:06
  • @Megha - Unfortunately, I have trouble reconciling any of these sensible ideas with what the text says. – Adamant Sep 14 '17 at 2:07
  • @Izkata - Or yours for that matter. – Adamant Sep 14 '17 at 2:08
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    @Adamant I'm thinking the difference in how the two types of magic worked is the core thing. He was a street rat and probably only ever encountered Academic magic, which generally works through a physical object. His first experience with Ambient magic was totally different though. I believe this fits all the examples above. – Izkata Sep 14 '17 at 2:14

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