Trickster's Queen is the sequel to Trickster's Choice, beginning six months or so after the events in that novel. Alianne Cooper, daughter of Alanna the Lioness and George (Tortallan spymaster) has won her wager with the god Kyprioth and kept Sarai and Dove (the two elder daughters of the Balitangs) alive, but she has elected to stay in the Copper Isles and see the half-blood Queen crowned.
We begin the novel with the Balitang family arriving back in the city of Rajmuat, plunging themselves into political intrigue and gaining the attention of the Rittevon royal family, who suspect the Balitangs of having intentions towards the throne. While this is occurring, Aly and the other raka conspirators create civil unrest in the city in order to push the populace into rebellion against the ruling monarchs.
Aly spends a great deal of time desk-bound, reading reports, or visiting with the other conspirators - and this is where I feel the novel really lacked sparkle. The book reads like an account of someone doing a job - recruiting, reading reports, attending meetings. It just isn't all that exciting.
Tamora Pierce confesses in her acknowledgements that she has delighted in following J K Rowling's lead in writing larger books for children. This is all very well, but I think Pierce writes better in a shorter format. Her original quartets about Tortall were strong, snappy and fast-paced. The larger books suffer from bloating and, here, too many tedious details about the reports Aly reads and visits to the palace were included. Two of the early chapters in the novel concern Sarai and Dove visiting the palace, and I found it extremely hard to push through those - I've never had such trouble with Pierce's books before.
I also found that Sarai became a pretty dislikeable character - spoilt, headstrong, and only thinking of herself. I was thankful when we reached the fate Pierce gave to her, and Dove came to the forefront. While speaking about the characters, one of my favourites from Trickster's Choice - Nawat Crow - was absent for much of this novel, and his loss removed a lot of the gentle humour that delighted me so in the first book.
Another complaint I have is the "MacGuffin" of the darking characters. Sure, they're pretty cute - although they do have a tendency to come across in a childish manner with their lack of adult speech - but they do make Aly's job enormously easy when she is spying on the palace. It is a very lazy plot device and leads Aly to suffer no real peril or cause her to have to really think through obtaining information.
Since we're on the subject of peril, none of these characters seem in any real danger. Yes, a few of them die but this almost seems as though Pierce is going through a checklist and ticking off "necessary death of beloved character to generate scenes of mourning". I never felt that any of the main characters were in any danger of not surviving.
I did enjoy some parts of the book - the kudarung (winged horses of all sizes and colours) were a nice addition; Nawat's return was very welcome; and the epilogue did a neat job of showing a few nice details of Aly's life some months after the end of the revolution - but overall I was disappointed. This seemed Pierce-by-the-numbers, and it came across that she didn't have much fun writing the story. In her Notes at the end, Tamora Pierce encourages those interested to seek out historical sources of actual revolution and conquest - it is a shame that, in this case, those sources would be more exciting.