Tamora Pierce returns to the world of Tortall, in Trickster's Choice, a story about Aly - the teenage daughter of Alanna the Lioness and George Cooper. At the beginning of the novel, Aly is a bored young noblewoman, desperate to take her father's path as a spy but not being allowed to. Her relationship with her mother is fraught, since neither stubborn woman will back down on their ideas about Aly's future. After yet another argument, Aly decides to spend the summer visiting relatives rather than endure her mother's wrath, but ends up being taken by slavers en route. She is shipped to the Copper Isles and purchased by the Balitang family.
While there, Aly is visited by a minor God - Kyprioth, who used to be all-powerful to the raka people of the islands. He offers a wager - if Aly keeps the two eldest daughters of the Balitangs family alive til autumn, Kyprioth will return her to her family and speak to George Cooper on her behalf about becoming a spy.
From there, Aly is plunged into a life fraught with dangers, where the mad royal luarin family have reason to see the Balitangs first driven into exile and then attempt murder. Aly comes to see that Sarai, eldest daughter of the Balitangs, has both luarin and raka royal blood and therefore is destined to bring the people of the Copper Isles together.
Surrounded by interesting characters - such as Nawat Crow - Aly is determined to win her wager...
As is her wont, Pierce has once again given us a sassy and fiercely independent young woman, who is prepared to die out of loyalty to friends and who sees men as no more than a pleasant diversion in the pursuit of duty. Aly manages to overcome her title of slave and becomes integral to the lives of the Balitangs, through straight talking and unquenchable spirit.
My one complaint about Aly - who otherwise is a genuinely likeable young heroine - is that she is almost too clever and resourceful. We are given to understand that she has received training and advice from such illustrious personages as George, Alanna, Daine and Thayet (all characters from Pierce's previous novels about Tortall), but Aly still seems to know the answer to everything.
The book is filled with warm and interesting characters. Pierce is able to give us people and animals that we can take easily to our hearts. By the page-turning climax of the book, we care deeply for the people who have crowded the novel with their lively characters, realistic dialogue and genuine motivations.
Enjoyably, Pierce also writes strongly about divisions between the people of a land because of the colour of skin. She explains sensibly (in the words of Aly) that no one should be prejudiced against because they are the wrong colour. It is excellent that such a widely-regarded author is using her work to encourage racial equality and acceptance of the healthy differences between different people. The raka (black) and luarin (white) have both been responsible for atrocities in the past, and now must learn to live together and become simply the people of the Copper Isles.
I very much enjoyed the little details that Pierce embued this novel with to show a different culture to that of Tortall (which is very much based on feudal Europe). The Copper Isles are shown to be rich with exotic wildlife and landscapes, and the fiery food is very different from that Aly is accustomed to eating.
Happily, it is not essential to have read Pierce's other Tortall novels in order to enjoy this one, so new readers to the world can dive right in - however, it is extremely likely that, after enjoying this book, they will rush out and buy the rest. Readers accustomed to Tortall will both enjoy hearing about characters from previous books and be pleased to see this new plucky heroine take her place amongst them.
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