Tamora Pierce does a lovely job here of tying up her Trickster duet. Duchess Winnamine Balitang, recently widowed, returns to Rajmuat from exile in Tanair with her children Petranne and Elsren, and her stepdaughters Saraiyu and Dovasary. Also with them is the clever Aly Homewood, charged by the raka god Kyprioth to keep the children alive through the winter, and now promoted from lowly maid to the household’s spymaster. The household is filled with conspirators working to bring about the overthrow of the luarin regents who rule the Copper Isles
The former crow Nawat has been courting Aly all through the winter, but feels that she doesn’t respect him as a man, and so leaves the capital city to assist in raka revolts on some of the far-flung islands. Aly works tirelessly with her network of spies to weaken the regents, Prince Rubiyanan and Princess Imajane, with rumor and destabilization of their own spy network.
The book spends far more time below stairs with the servants/conspirators than the first volume, fleshing out leaders of the rebellion like Ulasim and Fesgao. Aly’s frequent field trips to the palace with the noble family she serves are tense and gratifying, particularly her careful spy’s dance with Taybur Sibigat, head of the King’s Guard and special defender of the nation’s boy king, Dunevon. The addition of Lady Nuritin, the late Duke Mequen’s imperious aunt, is a welcome one, as is the depiction of the Balitang’s place among the luarin nobles in Rajmuat.
The one element that doesn’t quite work is Aly’s darklings—tiny black balls of special matter deus ex machina‘d into her lap by a family friend from Tortall who happens to be visiting in the Copper Isles. The darklings are sentient and magical, able to spy and report back to Aly via her constant darkling companion, Trick. Magic and intervention from the gods are a given in this universe, but it would have been more interesting to see Aly bring down the government with only her wits and command of spycraft.
Pierce doesn’t pull any punches. Numerous beloved characters perish in their fight for freedom and innocents die merely because they got in the way of someone powerful. She’s also very canny about sex and birth control, treating both subjects very matter-of-factly and without any moral teeth-gnashing. There is a happy ending, and I only regret that there are no more books detailing the further adventures of Aly.
Question: Does anyone know which characters the girls pictured on the covers of Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen are supposed to be?