Trickster’s Choice: Have the sequel on hand

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Tamora Pierce Trickster's Choice Daughter of the LionessTrickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

The last time we saw Alianne of Pirate’s Swoop was briefly in Wild Magic, as a little girl of about five. Now she’s sixteen, and the true product of her parents: Alanna the King’s Champion and George Cooper, the King’s Spymaster. Although she’s eager to take her place amongst the adults of her world, honing her gifts as a spy, she’s also perfectly content to spend her time relaxing, flirting and mischief-making — much to the disappointment of her mother.

After a particularly uncomfortable squabble with her mother over her prospects for the future, Aly decides to sail her boat to her friends’ estate for a while till her fiery mother cools down. However, Aly didn’t count on the pirates prowling the coast, who capture her and put her on sale as a slave within a few pages! This of course, is where the story really starts. Aly is approached by the trickster god Kyprioth, who ensures that she is sold to a decent family in the Copper Isles, his homeland. He makes a wager with Aly: if she keeps the children of the Balitang family safe throughout the summer, he’ll return her to her family.

The political situation on the Isles is dire: centuries ago the white-skinned luarins invaded, subjugating the dark-skinned rakas to slavery. Kyprioth has been unable to act in his peoples’ defense until now, and he wants Aly to help him put a raka back on the throne, saving the Isles from the mad machinations of the royal Rittevon family. According to his prophesy, the potential-monarch he has in mind is one of the two Balitang girls: Saraiyu or Dovesary, whose lineage connects them to both the luarin Rittevons and the old raka queens. They seem like the perfect candidates for the throne, ushering in a time of co-habitation between both races.

But first Aly must get them through the summer, a task easier said than done when one takes into account the political maneuverings of the royal family. It’s too complex to even begin to outline in a simple review, but needless to say, there are plenty of intrigues, romances, betrayals, murders and inheritances that keep Aly on her toes. Throw in a meddling trickster god, a crow-turned-man named Nawat who has his eye on Aly (and confused as to why she doesn’t appreciate him trying to feed her bugs), and racial tensions on both the luarin and raka side, and Pierce crafts another fantastic story that pits a young, headstrong, intelligent heroine against the problems of the big, wide world. Pierce goes out of her way to portray the basics of spy-craft, including code-breaking, disguises, diplomacy and making friends in the right places, lending a realistic air to the proceedings. Unlike her mother, Aly is more used to getting what she wants through humour, trickery and espionage, and as much as I love Alanna (who was first introduced to us in The Alanna quartet), her daughter is much more enjoyable to read, what with her self-deprecating nature and her wicked sense of humour.

As well as this, Pierce is careful to mix in the shades of grey into what could be a (literally) very black-and-white situation. Although the luarin people unfairly took control of the raka lands during the invasion, Pierce makes it clear that Aly and Kyprioth’s efforts are not to eradicate luarin presence in the Isles, but to establish peaceful and equal rights between luarin and raka. Meanwhile, Aly struggles with the mistrust and foreboding of several raka servants, who are none too pleased to find that their god’s envoy to her is a white-skinned luarin. Trying to win the trust of several raka servants in the household is another challenge for Aly, as is trying to keep her temper at bay when luarin royals insult her newfound friends. Into all of this comes the character of Nawat — the crow who has had himself turned into a human to better help Aly — like a breath of fresh air, who cares nothing for the color of one’s skin and whose innocence personifies the ideal way of looking at the world.

Furthermore, Pierce several opportunities to take a careful look into family dynamics, specifically those of the Coopers and the Balitangs. Although we only get a short glimpse of the Coopers at the beginning of the novel, what we see is promising: Aly takes more after her father than her mother, and her lack of motivation means that she and Alanna have a somewhat prickly relationship. Meanwhile, her father is not at all happy with the idea that his only daughter wants to take up spying, despite the fact that he taught her everything she knows. Sadly, we don’t get to see Aly’s brother Thom or Alan (her twin, which was a relationship well worth exploring), although throughout the course of the book, Pierce treats her fans with visions of what is happening in Tortall in Aly’s absence, including updates on Daine and Numair, Keladry, Raoul and Buri, and several other familiar faces from previous books, most of whom make up the members of Aly’s extended foster family.

Meanwhile, in the Copper Isles, Pierce presents the rather odd Balitang family, made up of the liberal-yet-strict Duke Mequen, his daughters Sarai and Dove (the daughters of his first wife, a member of the raka nobility), his second wife Winnamine (a luarin noblewoman) and their younger children. Sarai and Dove, as the potential heirs to the throne are opposites in temperament and nature, but are both intelligent enough to understand their responsibilities and use their strengths in the pursuit of peace: for Sarai, it is her beauty and charm, for Dove, it is her watchfulness and quick wits. But the real gem is the characterization of Winnamine, a woman who is a loving and concerned stepmother who is struggling to maintain control over her headstrong stepdaughters and understand the ways of the raka people. How often do you come across stepmothers who aren’t trying to kill their husband’s offspring? She’s a great character, and between the four of them, the Balitang family soon have Aly — and the reader — deeply concerned about their fates.

In both cases, it’s a realistic and honest look at familial relations that are often strained, but ultimately loving, and provide striking contrast to the deceitfulness and danger of the royal family and their court.

Trickster’s Choice is the first book that Tamora Pierce has written in two parts, not four, as in the case of The Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, and Protector of the Small, making it rather thicker than usual. Make sure you have its sequel Trickster’s Queen on hand to complete Aly’s tale.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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