Ask a person for an author who writes young adult novels with strong female characters and undoubtably someone will mention Tamora Pierce. Pierce is the author of several series and debuted with a series by the name of Song of the Lioness, a four book installment with the good old plot centering around a girl, Alanna who wishes to join the army (or in this case, become a knight) and, barred from it because of her gender, must pretend to be a boy to do so. But the book I am writing about today is a sequel to this series called Trickster’s Choice which follows the adventure of Alanna’s daughter, Alianne–or Aly, as she’s often called (it makes things a lot less confusing that way). Therefore, if you haven’t read Song of the Lioness and would like to, you may not want to read this review or Trickster’s Choice just yet as it does have some spoilers for that series.
Taking place years after the conquests of Alanna in Song of the Lioness, Alanna is still a famous knight, but now she’s also a mother. Aly is one of Alanna’s children and quite the troublemaker for her mother and father. At sixteen, Aly yearns to become a spy like her father, but as the only daughter of her parents they are reluctant to let her assist in such dangerous work. Because of that, Aly spends her time without a goal to achieve, flirting with boys without any seriousness, butting heads with her very driven and often absent mother, and occasionally dying her hair blue while turning her parents hair white with exasperation. After a fight with her mother, Aly decides to take her boat out to get away from her mother for awhile, but is captured by pirates along the way and sold into slavery in a neighboring realm, the Copper Isles, known for its instability between its luarin conquerors and raka natives. But just as Aly plans to make her escape, a god appears before her and offers her a wager: keep the children of the family she’s been sold to, the Balitang, safe through the summer from political schemes threatening to sweep them up and the god will make her a spy as she always wished to be. Unable to resist the temptation of the reward nor the intrigue of adventure, Aly accepts.
Initially, Aly does come off as an unserious, slightly rebellious teenage, but Pierce does a good job of deepening the character beyond that. First of all, neither Aly or her mother are made out to be the bad guy who’s come around just to make the other person’s life miserable (even if it may seem that way at first). As happens all the time in real life, both Aly and Alanna have good points and good intentions, but butt heads with each other because personality differences and different opinions without taking the time to slow down and consider the other person’s point of view. In some ways, Aly and her mother are very similar and this also causes them to clash. I came to really like this relationship in the book as it shows such an honest and even view of this dynamic between some parents and children.
Pierce also manages bringing favorite characters back from previous books without making readers cringe. Tell me you haven’t had this happen at least once; you read a book/manga or watch a movie/TV show and just love the story and characters to pieces so, when the tale comes to an end, there’s a bit of sadness. Then you catch word of plans to continue the story somehow (an unexpected sequel perhaps). Oh, the joy! You wait anxiously for it, counting the days on your calendar, but when you finally read/see it, it fails the original so badly you wish the creators had just left it and the characters alone. Luckily, I felt Pierce keeps the integrity of the old characters.
As for the new characters, they’re excellent! My other fear when people make sequels about the children of the main character from the original story is that the child will be a copy of the parent. Aly’s character is well done, however. Readers of Song of the Lioness will recognize similar traits in Aly to those of her parents, but it’s a good mix, making Aly a fresh and unique character. She’s strong-willed like Alanna, but where her mother’s skill was fighting, Aly’s is her cunning. This is excellently portrayed early on when Aly is captured by those pirates. Thinking quickly, Aly deduces her situation and realizes she could easily by sold as a “bed warmer” as Pierce puts it. To avoid this fate, Aly purposely takes a beating before the slave auction begins, not only to ruin her looks, but also to mark herself as a troublemaker and therefore much less desirable as a slave. It takes some guts to let yourself get beat up and some brains to think that far ahead in such a bad situation. I also like the fact that when Aly is later offered the chance to erase scars left over from that beating and fix the bump created from breaking her nose, she declines, preferring to live with them.
But as most fiction with a strong female lead, Aly isn’t the only strong female character. Two of the Balitang children from the lord of the household’s first marriage are key players in this story. Teenagers Lady Saraiyu (Sarai) and Lady Dovasary (Dove) are part-raka and part-luarin, an unusual thing in a place where many luarins look down on the native raka and many of the raka hold deep feelings of hatred for the luarins who stole the land from them in the first place and now receive poor treatment. Because of their mixed heritage and noble bloodlines, Sarai and Dove are in the middle of those political schemes I mentioned earlier. However, these are no damsels-in-distress. Sarai excels at the sword despite being barred from practicing because of her gender and captivates people with her charisma. Her younger sister Dove is often overlooked because of her quiet nature and collectedness, but Dove is often just as sharp as Aly, reading situations and seeing between the lines before even her parents (and she’s excellent with a bow and arrow). As a bonus, the relationship between the girls is petty cat-fight-free. Other strong female characters include Dove and Sarai’s step-mother and the house cook who are also not to be underestimated.
Trickster’s Choice is yet another entertaining read from Tamora Pierce and the tension steadily builds as Aly and readers alike try to figure out just what others are hiding and scheming. I recommend this book for anyone who has read Pierce’s other works, those who are starved for more strong female characters, and/or anyone looking for a good fantasy filled with political plots, a little romance, and a lot of great characters. There is also a sequel to this book by the name of Trickster’s Queen.