steel knives for hands grip the edge
then, steel fangs, steel wings.
I was tired & hung-over when I reviewed the first book in this duo, Trickster's Choice, so let me try to give it a better gloss, this time. I think the nearest comparison is to Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series; both are about ridiculously sneaky characters-- people almost supernatural in their cunning. Both feature a mix of reverence & irreverence for the gods, though the Trickster's... books are much heavier on the supernatural. The real hallmark difference, I suppose, is gender-- Eugenides is a boy, & Aliane is a girl. Functionally, this doesn't mark a radical departure, since both characters are professionally minded & fulfilling the same purpose, but to the reader it can make a world of difference. Tamora Pierce's "thing" is the strong female lead-- not too shabby a gimmick, if you ask me. One reason I like a lot of Young Adult fiction is that there is a great deal more gender equality than there is in adult fiction, both in terms of character & authors. Well-- I say that, but I should confess I'm not looking at any statistics. That is my impression, anyhow. Not that you can tell these Trickster's... books are YA; if they were marketed as adult fantasy fiction, you'd never tell the difference.
This is a different book in tone from the last book, though it is hard to pinpoint how, exactly. The stakes are higher, but less immediate-- there aren't assassins at the gate, or rather, there are, but they are the protagonist's pet assassins. I suppose the core is that while the last book was about Aly as a spy, in her own person, this is about her as a spymaster, directing the efforts of others. Pierce keeps a number of irons in the fire, a number of threads going-- all the while filtering them through Aly. She's juggling the rebellion, she's juggling diplomacy, she's juggling supernatural critters & hot-headed nobles & rival spies & maid duties & well, plenty of other things. It is a mark of Pierce as a writer that the reader never feels swamped; the balancing act holds up. The romantic angle is periodic, but absent for a lot of the book-- for better or for worse, the scene-stealing Nawat isn't present for much of the narrative. You know what, I'll say "for worse." Removing him keeps tension without dragging out the plausibility of the tension, but his alien worldview-- being a shapeshifting crow & all-- made him one of the more compelling characters. Ample comic relief without being silly. The plot of the story snarls, but doesn't feel the need to pull off some kind of "twist" ending-- you can guess what is going to happen next, but you don't feel bad about it, because so can the main character. Your speculation is dealt with by her as she tries to keep all the bases covered. In the end, everything comes out as you might expect, but you don't feel cheated-- you feel rewarded. How did I like it? Quite a bit. I think I might prefer the Queen's Thief, but it is a close call. Tamora Pierce has...not better worldbuilding, but more expansive worldbuilding. Her setting is home to YA novels, Middle Grade novels, a gamut-- I admire that. She's got a deep well to draw from, & an evocative imagination. Where Megan Whalen Turner is minimalist, pared down, Pierces is elaborate & more precisely elaborating-- her details compound upon previous details, spinning out complexities.