Title: Trickster’s Choice
Author: Tamora Pierce
Review Number: 12
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Daughter of the Lioness duology; part of Tamora Pierce’s larger collection of work set in Tortall
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Tamora Pierce brings readers another Tortall adventure! Alianne is the teenage daughter of the famed Alanna, the first lady knight in Tortall. Young Aly follows in the quieter footsteps of her father, however, delighting in the art of spying. When she is captured and sold as a slave to an exiled royal family in the faraway Copper Islands, it is this skill that makes a difference in a world filled with political intrigue, murderous conspiracy, and warring gods. This is the first of two books featuring Alianne.
Why did I read the book: As a young girl I was swept away by the adventures of Alanna on her quest to become a knight and King’s Champion.When I saw that Trickster’s Choice was a continuation of Alanna’s family and story, I had to have it.
I am a huge fan of Tamora Pierce and have been since I was very young. The Song of the Lioness Quartet is one of my favorite series of all time—and this isn’t just nostalgia speaking. Recently I reordered the books because I wanted to see if they were as wonderful as I remembered them to be. One weekend (and one very angry, neglected boyfriend) later, I had firmly reestablished my admiration for Ms. Pierce and her wondrous Tortall Universe. When I saw that Trickster’s Choice was not only set in this universe, centered on the daughter of my childhood loves Alanna and George, and most importantly was a duology (there is a limit to how many lengthy, multi-volume epic series I can take on at once), how could I resist?
One quick note to readers who have yet to discover Tortall or read any of the other books by Ms. Pierce: You can safely read Trickster’s Choice on its own without any prior knowledge of characters. Of course, it’s cooler if you know who Alanna, George, Jonathan, Miles, etc are but it is not necessary. This duology can stand alone.
Trickster’s Choice is the story of Alianne (aka Aly); an intelligent girl, but lacking direction and purpose in her life. As the only daughter in the family, she has some big shoes to fill, not only in the literal sense as the daughter of the famed Lioness (powerful mage, first lady knight and King’s champion), but also in the eyes of any reader that would judge Aly and her journey against the beloved Alanna tales. Ms. Pierce weaves a smart, unique heroine in Aly, avoiding the trap of creating a miniature Alanna. Unlike her mother, Aly has no interest in becoming a knight of the realm, nor does she want the “normal” (safe) life of marriage and managing an estate that her parents continually try to push her towards. Aly does not have her mother’s rashness or passion for fighting, but she did inherit her father’s calculating quickness. When Alanna returns to the family’s home at Pirate’s Swoop on a brief leave from battle, Aly seizes the opportunity and tells her mother that she wants to be a spy. Unfortunately for Aly, her parents refuse, as it is a deadly profession (despite the tiny hypocritical fact that her father is Spymaster of Tortall and her mother is on the front lines of battle). Frustrated, angry, and not wanting to deal with her mother’s pushiness for the next few weeks, Aly leaves a note and takes off on her own for a nearby town to visit friends and stay out of her parents’ hair. However, Aly’s carefree plan is thwarted when she is captured by pirates and sold as a slave to a noble family in the political hotbed that is the Copper Isles.
The Isles were torn by war centuries before, resulting in the conquering luarin (white skinned foreigners) seizing power over the native raka (the copper skinned natives). Aly lands in the middle of a tempest as the paranoid, mad King Oron is near death, with no direct male heir—and according to luarin law, no female can inherit. Sold seemingly at random into the household of the Balitang family, Aly’s cleverness and skills are put to use after a visit from Kyprioth, the trickster god of the raka and the Copper Isles. Kyprioth strikes a bargain with Aly: keep the Balitang eldest daughters alive through the year, and he will let Aly go back to her family. She accepts the wager, and even though she does not understand what is so important about these girls, she dedicates herself whole-heartedly to the task. As it turns out, the two daughters are extremely important; they are half luarin and half raka, of noble blood on both sides, and one of them is prophesized to become Queen of the Copper Isles, who will restore the raka to power.
Naturally, Aly has her hands full with spygames, assassination plots, stubborn family members who won’t always listen to her because she is (to them) a commoner, raka servants who think she is a royal spy, etc. Not to mention, her patron god is the Trickster.
I was so very impressed with this book. As I mentioned before, Aly is an entirely new kind of heroine and is distinct from Alanna. Instead of being passionate and impetuous, Aly is resourceful and calculating. Sarai, the eldest Balitang daughter, is beautiful and headstrong and brave and longs to storm off into battle…and while everyone is distracted by Sarai’s goodness and beauty, Aly is detached and has more important things to do than attract attention to herself. I knew I was in for a treat with this character when early on in the book Aly goes so far as getting her head shaved, purposely refuses to eat food and breaks her nose while on the slave ship to make herself less desirable (and thus preventing herself from being sold as a sex slave)—a far cry from the typical, beautiful “too stupid to live” heroines. I love that Aly did not always need to be the center of attention to the characters and plot of the book—truly, what kind of spy would she be if she was flamboyant? That is not to say that Aly is a sideline character! She in fact is pulling all the strings, but what is wonderful about this is that all the ‘key characters’ (the Balitang family and the rulers of the Copper Isles) are completely oblivious to it.
I was also highly impressed by Ms. Pierce’s realm of the Copper Isles and the intricate politics of the luarin and raka. Most fantasy uses a kind of medieval western Europe template—in her Lioness books used, Ms. Pierce adhered to this theme for the country of Tortall. In Trickster’s Choice, however, the template shifts from Western European to more of a Southeast Asian flavor. From the dark skinned sarong wearing raka, to the dishes made with sambal and steamed rice in banana leaves, to even the etymology of some words and names (i.e. the “kudarung” are a species of flying horses in this book—kuda is Indonesian for horse), it was nice to see a YA departure from the usual stonewalled castles and rolling green fields. Plus, myself being half Filipino and having grown up in Indonesia, it was pretty cool.
The actual politics of the Copper Isles was also impressive. The dynamics between luarin and raka aren’t simply a black and white issue (ugh, no Noughts and Crosses disaster here, thank goodness). While the raka long for their lands to be restored to them and freed from their servitude, there is a reminder that the luarin aren’t Eeeeevil Tyrants. Aly herself is a luarin, as is the father of both Sarai and Dove. There is a nice balance and tension between the two classes, with shades of gray—which is impressive, especially in young adult literature.
Notable quotes/parts: I should probably mention that there is a sweet side plot with Aly and a crow that has become a young man, named Nawat. Very cute, and provides some nice lighthearted humor throughout the story. Aly, coolheaded girl that she is, has experience with men. There is one part of the book where Sarai has a ‘lover’s interlude’ with royal and friend of the family Prince Bronau, and Aly also sneaks after her to make sure things don’t get too out of control. Aly’s observations of the little scene are hilarious.
Additional Thoughts: There is a lot of tension in this story not only in the political sense, but also between Aly and her mother Alanna—for once, we get a nice long look at Mommy Issues (as opposed to the Daddy Issues that always seem to dominate stories). Ms. Pierce completes an understandable distance between Aly and her famous mother. Aly feels like Alanna pushes her around and that she is just a strain on her mother, while Alanna just doesn’t really know how to relate to her daughter (being a warrior and King’s Champion isn’t the same as being affectionate and motherly). The revelations that Aly has, seeing her mother does love her and is worried for her, is executed in a smooth, subtle way. I cannot wait to see what happens in the next book.
Verdict: Excellent! I can’t praise it enough. I loved every second of it, and am eager to finish off the duology with Trickster’s Queen.
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading next: Working For the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow