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.