Fascinating Political Intrigue, Just Outside Tortall

Regular readers know that I’ve been re-reading my way through Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series for the last several months.  I’m finally down to the last two–the Tricksters series, a set of two books about political intrigue, revolution and of course some romance.

These books focus on Aly, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Alanna, heroine of Song of the Lioness.  Aly takes after her father more, George Cooper, former King of Thieves and current Assistant Spymaster to Tortall’s king.  Aly knows all about picking locks and picking apart codes, about hiding her thoughts and manipulating a situation.  She needs those skills when she’s captured by pirates and sold into slavery in a neighboring kingdom.  The stakes get higher when Kyprioth, the Trickster god, arrives to offer her a wager.

This series, unlike any of the others, is set almost entirely outside of Tortall, in the neighboring Copper Isles.  The isles’ natives, the raka, were conquered some three hundred years earlier, and have been living as slaves and second-class citizens ever since.  But there’s a prophecy that their royal line will one day be restored, and Aly finds herself in the midst of a brewing revolution.

This is maybe the most fascinating Tortall sub-series.  The intrigue and the plot twists and the thousand and one pieces Aly has to keep track of, especially in the second book, are all, well, fascinating.  It’s probably the most plot-driven series, and in some ways the most focused.

All that fascinating intrigue, however, also comes with some costs.  With a few exceptions, the characters aren’t as good.  The members of the Balitang family, which Aly is striving to protect, are all good, especially Dove, who’s wonderful.  And there’s Nawat, my favorite favorite favorite part of the book.  He’s a crow who turns into a man, and is just adorable and delightful and my favorite Pierce love interest (except George, because I also love George).  But there are also a lot of secondary characters who feel under-developed.  They’re fine for what they are, but when I compare them to secondary characters in other Pierce series, I feel like they could have been better.

As to Aly, similar to Keladry, I like her but don’t love her.  I also find her a bit less believable than the other heroines.  That’s two issues, so let me start with the first one.  Not loving her–I think she gets a poor introduction, and that first impression may be the biggest issue.  When the book opens she’s sixteen and frivolous and doesn’t get along with her mother.  That ought to be fine; plenty of sixteen-year-olds don’t get on with their mothers.  But her mother is Alanna the Lioness who I love and admire and spent years of my childhood wanting to be.  I admit, Alanna may be a very difficult mother, but if it comes to taking sides, I’m still never going to be on Aly’s side.  She is a really good, strong character and I enjoyed reading about her…but I don’t love her nearly as much as her mother.

As to believability, we meet Aly older than most of Pierce’s other heroines, and more established in her skills than any of them.  Usually, heroines go through a book or two (or three) of learning their abilities, of direct or indirect training, and only really come into their power by the end of the series.  Aly already knew everything she was going to know about spying and intrigue when we met her–and there we have a believability problem.  First, she is incredibly skillful for someone who has no actual experience.  It might be easier to believe if we had watched her learn all the theory, but we didn’t.  Second, George doesn’t want her to be in the field, and Alanna doesn’t want her to be a spy at all.  And yet…apparently George and Numair and Myles and all sorts of other intelligent characters we know from other books have been teaching her how to be a spy her whole life.  Some of it I’ll believe was meant to be games or more general skills…but George taught her how to overcome fear spells and Numair taught her how to create elaborate lies that no one could see through.  They taught her that level of skill, and didn’t expect her to use those skills?  Not quite consistent, that.

Still, despite a few issues, it’s a fascinating, intriguing, exciting, suspenseful book.  There are some wonderful twists, occasional humor, and a handful of excellent characters.  And there’s Nawat.  It’s all worth it just for Nawat, and fortunately he’s not the only bright spot of the book anyway!  I’ve also been re-reading Tortall and Other Lands, Pierce’s collection of short stories, reading the stories relevant to each series as I come to it.  One of the best is a story from Nawat’s point of view, about a year after the Tricksters series closes.  Definitely worth reading as well!

And that brings me to the end of my Pierce reading–it was a wonderful adventure, and I have corrected a great wrong in my world, that it had been ten years since I read some of these much beloved books.  If you’d like to read my other reviews, here are the links:

Song of the Lioness
The Immortals
Protector of the Small
Beka Cooper: Terrier, Bloodhound, Mastiff
Tortall and Other Lands

Author’s Site: http://tamorapierce.com/

Other reviews:
Reviews from the Hammock: Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen
Ems Reviews
Emma Michaels

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