Book Review: Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce (spoilers!)

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

This book is about a girl named Aly who wants to be a spy. Her parents (Alanna and George from The Song of the Lioness Quartet) think this is too dangerous, so Aly runs away and ends up getting captured and taken into slavery. She plans her escape but then Kyprioth the Trickster God makes a deal with her: keep two princesses alive until the end of the summer and he will help her get home. I’m too lazy to tie my notes together into paragraph form, so here is a list of pros and cons.

What I liked:

-Compelling storyline (once you get past the first few chapters, see below)
-Well thought out world
-Main character Aly has a strong voice. You feel like you know her really well.
-I like that the gods are really real. that the superstitions people have are based on fact for their world. that religious people can’t be looked down upon because, well, the gods are real and we see them.
-Love the hilarious crow man (didn’t buy him as a love interest, not because of the species thing, but because he doesn’t come across as intelligent)
-Love Kyprioth the Trickster God.

What I didn’t like:

-Really disliked the first chapter. I didn’t like the hair turning blue premise which felt anachronistic to me in a weird way. But I see why the author did this. I also didn’t like how the getting captured was glossed over. But I guess the book was long enough and this wasn’t really the crux of the story.

-Aly is kind of annoying. She is good at everything. child-rearing, tracking, politics, controlling her emotions, controlling how she is perceived, good with knives, good at seeing magic, etc. etc. She doesn’t take anything seriously enough and everything seems like a game to her. No one in the book can compete with her intellect, except for maybe Kyprioth and Aly’s father. I do like that for once it’s a girl who is smarter than everyone else unlike other fantasy novels I’ve read.
-I didn’t like how the race issues were treated in the book. I liked that she had brown skinned people (the raka), but didn’t like that it felt like real world issues with names changed to make it “fantasy” (the “luarin” treat the “raka” poorly because of the color of their skin). The author didn’t bring anything new to the table, and because of this, it almost felt like she was reinforcing the stereotypes: even in a fantasy world where you can make up whatever you want, brown-skinned people are treated poorly. No one else in my critique group felt this way, so maybe I’m being overly sensitive when she at least had multi-cultural characters in the story. However, she didn’t successfully make the raka feel like regular people to me, because she was constantly other-ing them by describing people as “raka”, or “native” rather than as just men or women and then describing their appearance. I guess it makes sense since the main character was a luarin who’d never met Raka before, but, it still rubbed me the wrong way. (And there is an unfortunate scene where Aly rubs brown sap on her face to “blend in”…very un-PC as well as unrealistic)
-I also wish that the main character actually experienced real slavery and had some appreciation for how terrible it is so that she didn’t feel like a white woman swooping in to save the poor brown people. Aly was overly lucky to get a nice family. All she had to do was get beaten up in the beginning! Now why on earth did no one else ever think of this? Instead, I think TP should have chosen one of the half-raka girls as a main character so that Aly’s role wouldn’t have felt so important to the whole thing and the “white person swooping in” thing wouldn’t be an issue.

All in all, this is a worthwhile read for Tamora Pierce fans, and for writers who want to read a book with multicultural characters to make their own decisions about whether it was done successfully or not.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce (spoilers!)

  1. Yeah, one of the major things that irritates me about Tamora Pierce as an adult, which I didn’t notice a a young person, is what I call “plagiarism of real life”. I used to love Tam Pierce, and I still love her for a lot of the things you mentioned as positives.

    I fell out of love with her when she wrote the “Protector of the Small” quartet, however, because I felt her world-building got lazy, which is partly what I think happened in Trickster. In PoS, she used a thinly-veiled version of Japan to give the character her “uniqueness”. I wouldn’t have taken issue with this, except for that she used real Japanese words, real Japanese artifacts (such as weapons and tea ceremonies), and stereotypical Japanese lifestyle and culture and just called it “Yamani”. I wanted her to invent a culture of her own, not rip off a culture that already exists, which is exactly what I feel like happened in Trickster.

    One could argue that the stereotypical high fantay is based out of Medieval Europe, but when we do that, we do something to make it unique…like having Immortals, and special magic systems. She did that with her original work (even if Carthack is “Carthage” with a phoneme change), and it was great.

    Yamani? (Yama= mountain ni (from nin = person/people). That’s obvious to any first-year Japanese student, and I just felt let-down and cheated out of the experience of learning a new culture she invented.

    Also, her characters are recurring. Keladry is a butch version of Alanna with no magic and Dane’s love for animals. Ali is Allana’s stubbornness and her dad’s penchant for mischief. And I agreed that she seemed to have absolutely no character journey to make.

    I did like the crow-boy, though. He was the most interesting character in that book, IMO, and the one that felt the most original.

  2. amitha says:

    Thanks for your comments! I’ve only read the original Alanna series, so I didn’t know this is something she does a lot with her characters. I like your phrase “plagiarism of real life”. Very true.

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