Tamora Pierce’s The Numair Chronicles Has Been 15 Years in the Making

Imagine a lanky, sarcastic, brilliant mage who, when he wasn’t shapeshifting into hawks, resembled Jeff Goldblum, only more awkward. The rare black-robe mage whose magical Gift was some of the most powerful of his generation. Got that visual? Then you have the hunkiest mage in fantasy circa 1992: Numair Salmalín.

By the time he becomes the teacher (and eventual love interest) of wild magic-bearing orphan Daine in Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series, Numair has lived many lives: as a shapeshifting spy for the king of Tortall, before that as an impoverished street magician hiding from Carthak’s emperor mage who would have him beheaded, and, even further back, as mage-in-training Arram Draper.

I first met Numair Salmalín in the early 2000s. I’ve been waiting half my lifetime to meet Arram Draper.

The first whispers of a “Numair: The Early Years” series came in 2003, and that in and of itself is a mind-boggler. I was 15, in the period between my heyday regularly writing Tamora Pierce fanfiction at age 13 and my return to the fandom at 18. Even though I wasn’t spending my weekends trading fanfic challenges with other writers and my summers penning WIPs, I still checked in on the latest speculation and Tammy’s (as she has always been known to readers) ever-changing list of forthcoming books.

At the time, her official site was the primary platform for communicating with fans, through a delightfully thorough FAQ page and this frequently updated list of which projects were front-and-center, which had been shuffled around, and which were mere twinkles in her eye. Today, this level of transparency is de rigeur on social media: you may even watch authors literally come up with new ideas in real-time tweets. But years before either Facebook or Twitter, it was a breathtakingly intimate invitation into this beloved writer’s vault, like sorting through metaphorical scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them.

The Numair Chronicles Tamora Pierce Arram Draper Numair Salmalin The Immortals The Realms of the Gods

The Realms of the Gods cover art by Michael McDermott. It’s the only cover featuring Numair (I *think* the one next to Daine?), and he looks nothing like I’d imagined. I’ll stick to fan art and Jeff Goldblum GIFs, thanks.

The Immortals series had concluded years before in 1996 with The Realms of the Gods, which saw, if not a happily ever after, then a happy next stage for Daine and Numair after setting right the balance between the mortal and immortal realms. Over the years, readers would get tidbits from Tammy at author events and in interviews about their marriage, their shapeshifting children, and so forth. But you know what was still a mystery? Numair’s childhood in Carthak, when he went by a different name, and the circumstances surrounding his exile.

Emperor Mage, the third book in the series, had certainly filled in some of the blanks: Tortall’s peace delegation to Carthak is Numair’s first return after escaping eight years prior, complete with awkward face-to-face confrontations with his ex-lover and former best friend. Or, was it his two former best friends who were also ex-lovers? That’s how fans read it, at least. There was curvy blonde Varice, an immaculately dressed mage who devoted her magic to crafting unforgettably lavish feasts and who seemed not at all bothered that Arram had just dropped out of their lives, as she and Numair seemed to catch up pretty quickly (much to Daine’s chagrin). Then there was Ozorne Tasikhe—a.k.a. the Emperor Mage, battling Xerxes from 300 for how much gold paint one could wear before succumbing to the fate of the Goldfinger girl—who on the surface all cool and “bygones!” Except, you know, for every little dig he gets in at the man he imprisoned and drove out of his country once he took the throne. And that time when he joked that Numair had probably had sex with Daine, but at the end of that confrontation somehow Ozorne was the one sitting alone in a room crushing a tiny screaming illusion of Numair in his palm. Oh, and when he manufactured a reason to actually execute Numair for treason.

Thankfully, Numair is a sneaky genius who before even sailing for Carthak had already created a simulacrum of himself—what, you wouldn’t?—that Ozorne killed instead, but still, it makes you wonder… What could Arram have done to make his best bud, the seeming Grindelwald to his Dumbledore, hate him so?

Numair Salmalin Minuiko Arram Draper

Art by Minuiko

And we were going to find out. It was just going to take a few years. Back in 2003, hearing that we wouldn’t have Numair: The Early Years in our hands for five whole years felt like a lifetime. In the Rumors and Speculation thread at The Dancing Dove (the place where fandom congregated), fans compiled everything they knew at the time:

Numair: The Early Years (September 2008)
(title tentative)
Chronicles Numair’s last years at the University of Carthak, the beginning of his conflict with the newly-made Emperor Ozorne (Numair’s best friend), his quick departure from Carthak, and how he survives afterward.

Rumors and Speculation
~ We know from the Immortal’s Quartet that Numair survived as a street magician in Corus when he first arrived on Tortall’’s shores
~ Onua will be an important character and we will learn more about her history (Onua was beaten by her husband; she may have killed him before coming to Tortall)
~ The book will depict Numair’s mysterious encounter with Lord Synthia, which was glossed over in the books.
~ The book will end at the scene where Numair meets Daine for the first time

Then came the Circle of Magic series, Tammy’s first foray into the other magical world of Emelan. After that, she returned to Tortall to introduce us to the next lady knight-in-training Keladry of Mindelan in the Protector of the Small series. Like The Immortals, it brought back all of our favorite characters from the Song of the Lioness series, only now they were getting older and dealing with generational changes, like the first girl openly training to be a knight and dealing with a staggering amount of sexism on all sides. By that time, Emelan was popular enough that Tammy followed up Circle of Magic with The Circle Opens, the further adventures of her four young mages bound by magic and friendship to one another. Then back to Tortall for Alanna’s daughter Aly to be swept up in gods’ business in the Trickster duology, and again to Emelan for The Circle Reforged.

And suddenly, it was 2007 and it was very clear that Numair’s origin story had been pushed back in favor of all of these series about plucky young women—knights, spies, mages pushing back against their parents or their training masters concern-trolling with you’re just too delicate for this hard life, and what about marriage proposals and children instead? Necessary stories, and—I’m half-ashamed, half-proud to say—I still haven’t read all of them. At this point, Tammy’s universe was expanding the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, with so many options that readers could actually pick and choose whose stories most excited them.

It was during this period that I returned to the still-very-active fandom; being welcomed back was a much-needed distraction from the terror of waiting to hear back from colleges and find out my future. By the time I was starting my freshman year, writing Yuletide gift exchange fanfics and weekly drabbles, we were expecting a 2010 release for Numair: The Early Years. What’s interesting is that while the title would go through several changes, the cover copy that surfaced around 2007 remained largely unchanged through the years: “in which we learn of Numair’s last years at the university of Carthak, the beginning of his conflict with the newly-made Emperor Ozorne (Numair’s best friend), his quick departure from Carthak, and how he survives afterward.”

Daine/Numair spidrens art by Minuiko Tamora Pierce

Art by Minuiko

By 2013, rumor from the Goldenlake message board (The Dancing Dove’s next iteration) was that the series had been condensed into a single volume, titled Arram, expected out the following autumn. Then came news that the book was re-expanded into a duology, and the release date got pushed back some more. By this point I had dropped out of the fandom, and I had little interest in Numair’s backstory. In my early-to-mid 20s I was rereading Alanna’s books instead, with an eye to her own early adulthood, grappling with being The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and the King’s Champion but also a wife and mother. When my reread brought me to The Immortals, I saw Numair as one of the dreamy guys in the Tortall canon, but he was no more compelling to me than Jonathan, or George, or Raoul of Goldenlake. I regarded these men in relation to the heroines they supported.

In a 2015 Reddit AMA that I completely missed at the time, Tammy explained that the Numair series had expanded even further. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) the title changed between first draft and the final version:

Right now I’m working on what was supposed to be a two-book series about Numair when he was at the university at Carthak, and is now three books. The first is titled THE GIFT OF POWER and I’m handing in the first draft this week! There are rough drafts of the other two already, thank heavens. The first is slated for Spring 2017, I hope.

I trace the book’s long history not to criticize, as I am both a writer with a million half-finished WIPs and I work adjacent to publishing. Instead, it’s fascinating to see how Numair’s story stopped and started, got pushed aside in favor of more pressing narratives (or more popular sequels), and needed to follow its own timeline. In late 2017, Tammy published a post on her Tumblr that also lives on in perpetuity on her website. The list of forthcoming books no longer exists in any official capacity (or, at least, I couldn’t find it), but this answer to “why does publishing take so long” does:

To recap: it’s about a year from final draft to bookstore shelves. Tammy has at this point written three entirely new first drafts of the Numair books, backing up and adding material as it expanded from one volume into a three-book series. This is when she’s not doing author visits, down with a cold or a migraine, dealing with unexpected life events…. You get the picture. So hopefully that answers the question of why there has been such a stretch of time between when she started work and when the books will hit shelves! She really appreciates the excitement and the patience you’ve had, and is doing her best to get things done as quickly and as well as possible.

Tempests and Slaughter, the first book of The Numair Chronicles, was published last week. I got my copy several weeks back and surprised myself with my own level of squeeing. Because, strangely enough, 15 years later I was ready to read Numair Salmalín’s origin story. This year I’ll turn 30, the age Numair is at the end of The Immortals, and lately I’ve been giving a lot more thought to formative teenage years and how they shape us, or inspire us to escape their attempts to shape us. I know people who have cut ties with the family and friends who helped bring them up, living their lives with a clean break between the two parts. Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to my childhood best friend (who opened the first Alanna book in front of me at the pool one day, and we devoured it together) and puzzling out what my feelings for her might have meant at the time and since we stopped being in each other’s lives.

I’ve also, since the last Harry Potter book was published in 2007, found myself unable to get into subsequent “magic academy” books. While the magic systems seem intriguing, my personal investment has been less so. But then I started reading about lonely little Arram, made awkward by his unprecedented power, and the two kind souls, Varice and Ozorne, who take him under their wing. Tempests and Slaughter isn’t just Arram’s story; it’s about this trio, as they each pursue very different paths as mages—something that appealed to me, as someone who literally created her own major at college and spent a lot of that time second-guessing her choices. Varice struggles with that old chestnut of women’s work and kitchen magic being written off as frivolity, despite how it sets her up for the perfect future in Ozorne’s palace. And then there’s the “leftover prince,” seventh in line for the throne, who we know will become the feared Emperor Mage. Watching him move further and further from his daily studies into court life, complete with endless parties to attend and subjects bowing in his wake, Ozorne becomes actually… sympathetic? Suffice to say, I am looking forward to book 2, which I am hoping really ups the love triangle subtext I’m getting about Arram loving two very different people in very different ways.

What most strikes me about the long wait for The Numair Chronicles is that it never became toxic or entitled. Sure, there was good-natured groaning on the message boards, and later Goodreads, about the constant pushing back of the pub date, but it was always understood that the series would come at some point. And there were so many other Tortall and Emelan books to occupy our attention instead, not to mention series by other authors—in the last 15 years, I’ve gotten into Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogies, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, Mindy L. Klasky’s Glasswrights books, The Thief and its sequels… all of which have shaped me as a reader and writer in different ways. It’s better, in fact, that the series is coming now.

What matters is that Tammy made good on her promise to introduce us to Arram Draper, and honestly, I wouldn’t have been ready to meet him any sooner.

Reading through old message boards and fanfiction archives has Natalie Zutter super nostalgic for the Tamora Pierce fandom. If you were part of The Dancing Dove, LiveJournal, or elsewhere, hit her up on Twitter!

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