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I Spy With My Little Eye

Tamora Pierce takes the reader—and Aly—beyond the borders of Tortall into the political unrest of the Copper Isles in Trickster’s Choice.

I Spy With My Little Eye

BOOK REPORT for Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness #1) by Tamora Pierce

Cover Story: Get Thee To A Nunnery
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Heavy Baggage
Bonus Factors: Old Friends, World Building, Animal Sidekicks
Relationship Status: Intrigued

Caution: This is the fourth series set in the fictional world of Tortall. While it could be read as a standalone, the series does contain some spoilers for how the previous books ended. In addition, Aly's story will be a lot richer and more rewarding if you start from the beginning.

Cover Story: Get Thee To A Nunnery

Maybe it’s because of my residual love for Sister Act, but my first thought when seeing this cover is that it’s about a nun-in-training. Or is she hiding under black silk sheets? Wearing a fancy old-timey veil? And why does the title look like it was done using Microsoft Word Art? None of these things have anything to do with Aly or this story.

The Deal:

Do something with your life, but not the thing you actually want to do. This is the unspoken mantra Alianne of Pirate’s Swoop gets from her famous parents. All she really wants to do is by a spy like her da, but George Cooper knows that life and he doesn’t want that for his only daughter (forget the fact that his son is training to be a knight and his wife is the most famous knight in Tortall—both people who could end up dead at any moment because it’s literally their job to fight bad people). So when Alanna arrives home and begins to take Aly to task for being a sixteen-year-old laze-about, Aly considers this to be the most convenient time to take a solo sailing voyage to visit some friends.

Unfortunately for her, slave traders also roam Tortall’s shores, and Aly gets picked up and sent to the Copper Isles to be sold as a slave. She’s confident in her abilities to escape her relatively nice and newly exiled masters, but the Trickster god, Kyprioth, has a wager for her: stay with the Balitang family for the summer and keep their half-luarin, half-raka daughters alive and he will send her home instantly. Aly thinks this will be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate her spying skills and show her father that she’s worthy of a spot in his spy network, but the more she learns about the political unrest within the Copper Isles, the more she realizes she may have just gotten in way over her head.

BFF Charm: Yay

You’d be hard-pressed not to like Aly. She’s definitely George Cooper’s daughter, with charm and smarts coloring every interaction and more than a dash of Alanna’s confidence. Because she’s angling to be a spy, she may not always be that forthcoming with her secrets, but she is a loyal friend and would look out for your back. You might almost find yourself jealous of how easily things come to her, but Aly recognizes she still has more to learn, and her charisma will make you feel bad that you had a negative thought about her.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Nawat comes from an unusual place, and his interactions with Aly are most amusing. He’s a loveable and innocent character, and he makes the perfect foil for Aly, who believes herself to be quite world-weary, coming from such a well-connected background. Nawat is totally infatuated with Aly, and you’d think that would make their romance dull, but Aly is the kind of person who thinks kissing is a fun pastime and gets bored easily by overly dramatic romanticism, so to see her flustered and off-balance by someone who simply runs his hands through her hair is a delight.

Talky Talk: Heavy Baggage

Tamora decided to tackle a very meaty topic with this series: colonialism. We come to the Copper Isles almost three hundred years after the laurin (the white men) from previously-visited places like Tortall, Scanra, and Gallan have invaded and conquered the raka (the copper/brown-skinned native people of the former Kyprish Isles) and installed themselves as the ruling class. Aly learns of a rebellion brewing after centuries of unrest and unjust behavior from the Rittevon royalty, now an inbred family prone to madness and in-fighting, and the rebellion’s desire to place a prophesized raka-luarin queen on the throne.

Coming from previous Pierce series where the Tortallan world was already established, there is a lot to unpack and familiarize yourself with before the story can really get started. I’ve read this once before, but coming back to it now was like reading it for the first time, and I was easily able to follow along with the complicated history of the islands. You could clearly see Tamora’s desire to make this a well-researched, thoughtful take on the dangers of colonialism, and it’s certainly her most political, least-fantastical series to date.

For the most part, I think she accomplished her goals. I was quite taken in with Aly’s story and her growing relationship with all of the characters of the Balitang household, from the headstrong and intelligent noble ladies, Dove and Sarai; to the leaders of the secret rebellion, people like Chenoal, the watchful arms-dealing cook, and Ulasim, the head footman who keeps everyone in check. Pierce’s sense of place and ability to create characters you care about are some of her biggest strengths.

Taking a step back from the book, I can see where it can be problematic that Aly, a white woman, has been suddenly thrust into a major role in the rebellion, in a place she had no relationship with before now. To quote Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the situation is actually a lot more nuanced than that, and I get why Pierce would want to base a series around the daughter of Lioness, one of her most famous characters. Could she have also chosen someone like Dove or Sarai to be the main character instead? Sure. I don't know what the right answer is here, but I think the book's saving grace is that Aly herself is very respectful of the culture and situations she’s now deeply invested in.

Bonus Factor: Old Friends

I totally forgot about the nuggets we get during this series about “Aunt Daine and Uncle Numair” and their new baby. As they are my Tortallan OTP, I welcomed the chance to spy alongside Aly on the goings-on of Tortall when Kyprioth gave her true dream-visions of her friends and family.

Bonus Factor: World Building

Do you think Tamora Pierce is aiming to compete with Tolkien and Martin for the most expanded fantasy universe? Like with Kel and her Yamani background, it’s a delight to see more of the world surrounding Tortall.

Bonus Factor: Animal Sidekicks

Not since Game of Thrones have crows gotten to play such a significant part of a story. You had to know there’d be some kind of animal sidekicks—this is a Pierce fantasy novel we’re talking about.

Relationship Status: Intrigued

There’s a lot to uncover within your pages, Book, and the more I learn, the more I want to know. You’ve got secrets, and I demand you tell me everything. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Trickster's Choice is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.