Stories Everywhere

Of all the stories of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, The Sleeping Beauty is probably the most epic.  I know, epic and fairy tale aren’t usually in the same sentence.  Epic and romance aren’t except in cases like Romeo and Juliet.  And, frankly, this series tends to be more down-to-earth even at its wildest.  So when I say “epic,” I mean that I cannot even begin to count the number of fairy tales that are named, referred to, hinted at, or otherwise indicated in this book.

There’s the obvious ones, of course.  Sleeping Beauty is in the title, Snow White shows up early on.  But then things get strange when you throw in the tale of Siegfried and the Ring Cycle.  Gods in general muddle things up, and I am not nearly as familiar with the Norse as I am with others.  In fact, this particular book is where I picked up a lot of what I know about Norse mythology outside the gods!

The two primary characters in The Sleeping Beauty are Godmother Lily and Prince Siegfried.  Lily is rather different from the Godmothers we’ve encountered before because not only is she half Fae, but she is responsible for only one Kingdom.  She was born and raised to this task though, because Eltaria possesses mines of silver, gold, and gemstones and several greedy neighbors.  Thus, Lily has been Eltaria’s Godmother for some three hundred years already, and it seems to be a neverending trial.

So when she’s trying to get the Princess Rosamund back to the Palace where she belongs, and two stray Princes show up each hoping to win her for themselves, it’s just the beginning of a story that will surely satisfy the Tradition for years to come.

Of course, another interesting bit about The Sleeping Beauty is that, of all the tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, it alone has a sequel.  “A Tangled Web” is one of the three novellas in Harvest Moon, which I touched on a while back when rereading “Cast in Moonlight” as a prequel to Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra.  This is one of the two other entries in the book, and the only other one I’m likely to reread.

As you might have guessed from his presence outside the Norse-like kingdoms, Siegfried does not wake the maiden sleeping in a ring of fire.  That falls to a different man, who marries her quite happily.  “A Tangled Web” finds the two relaxing in a Grecian region…when a god drives a chariot up out of the earth and kidnaps the Valkyrie.

I have to say, I feel like this is the most PG rated retelling of Olympian myth I’ve seen since Disney’s Hercules.  They don’t even use the words “balls” or “penis” or “genitals.”  It is probably the most times I’ve ever seen the word “goolies” used in a single piece of writing.  It’s also a much kinder rendition of the Greek gods than I’ve seen…probably kinder than they deserve.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading about mythology almost as much as I do fairy tales, but there’s a lot of fucked up shit in it, and I will happily swear to emphasize how messed up it gets.

In the end, this is a nice novella that brings about a bit more closure to characters from The Sleeping Beauty, being only about a third as long as the normal books.  It also allows Lackey to go into further detail on how you can have both the Tradition and gods in the same world.  There’s one more entry in this series, and then I can dive into some of my new books.  Well, new to me.  Only two of them are actually new, and one of those is a Book of the Month selection that just arrived today.

Traditionally Fractured

The next tale in the Five Hundred Kingdoms is that of The Snow Queen.  Except, the lady herself is not what you might think, based on what Hans Christian Andersen wrote.  She is Godmother Aleksia, the Ice Fairy, also known as the Snow Queen and she is, to put it simply, the Godmother of unintended consequences.

Yes, she kidnaps boys, but only those who would otherwise go down an evil path, setting them on the road to redemption.  Their sweethearts then follow, becoming independent women in their own rights in their pursuit of love.  It’s a story that plays out over and over again.

The other half of the tale takes place amongst the Sammi, who are like unto the Laplanders or other tribespeople of northern Scandinavia.  (I am not an expert okay.)  And that’s where the main plot of the story arises as Kaari’s betrothed is revealed to be in great danger.

It seems that there is another Snow Queen around, and that three separate Sammi villages have been frozen to death.  It’s up to our heroes to stop her before she takes any more lives.

The Snow Queen is an interesting book, especially in the context of the series.  We see the traditional tale play out, and then there’s the variant that is the main story.  And yes, it’s still the Five Hundred Kingdoms and there’s romance to be found all around, but that doesn’t detract at all.  Or maybe I’m just a sucker for anything with the Snow Queen, as I’ve said.  It is still my favorite fairy tale.  And this one happens to have a library to rival Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

As I mentioned, I did manage to hit up several bookstores today, so I am definitely eyeing my new acquisitions for the near future.  My arm is leery of the library book for the moment, having toted the new books around for some hours, but I have some time yet before it’s due.  It’s worth noting that most of the books I bought I’ve never read before, so they’re sitting in the Pile.  The two others are An Exchange of Gifts by Anne McCaffrey and Heroes in Hell by Janet Morris and friends.  Believe me, there’ll be a nice long post when I reread the latter, because that series is amazing.  I may have given away the books I’ve already acquired and read to a friend, but only because I know they’ll appreciate having (and rereading) them far more than I ever could.  Also because I know I can borrow them when I decide a reread is in order.

For the time being, I am not yet done with the Five Hundred Kingdoms.  There’s two and a half books left to go before I really consider what to read next.

Fairies and Fools

Moving on to Fortune’s Fool brings us to Eastern European and Russian fairy tales.  Remember Katschei the Deathless from The Fairy Godmother?  It seems he left a castle behind and it’s no longer untenanted.  This is the third time I’ve seen Mercedes Lackey pull out that particulary fairy tale (I believe it’s generally known as the Firebird), and really, I couldn’t be surprised.  I know she loves it.  But I’m getting distracted.

Fortune’s Fool has two main characters, which is different from The Fairy Godmother and One Good Knight which each had a main character and several supporting characters.  Even Alexander, from the first book, is still secondary to Elena.  Here, however, we have Katya and Sasha, and they are shown as equals.  It’s worth noting because one of the themes of the Five Hundred Kingdoms is strong, independent women and so men are not usually primary characters.

Princess Ekaterina (Katya) is the youngest daughter of the Sea King and, for lack of a better term, his spy.  On a mission, she is sent to investigate the nearby kingdom of Led Belarus for being suspiciously problem free.  There, she finds the reason behind the pastoral peace: Prince Sasha, Seventh Son of the King of Led Belarus, Fortunate Fool and Songweaver.  Everything seems to be going swimmingly until Katya gets another assignment from her father…and disappears.  That’s when bits and pieces from the previous two books get tied together into a massive climax.

To be honest, I was very surprised when Lackey continued the series past Fortune’s Fool because that was such a big climax, but the world is larger still and I suppose that repercussions wouldn’t necessarily touch more than a portion of a continent.

Still, we get a nice dose of Russian and Eastern European tales to reference and build off of, as well as a few other things.  It’s as easy a story to guess as its predecessors, but that’s no bad thing.  Of course, after the introduction to the Tradition and two subsequent novels analyzing and dissecting it, it almost seems like we’re starting to take it for granted.  Which means it’s time to have some main characters who don’t have all that background to draw on.

But first, there’s another Fairy Godmother to meet.

Easy Reading

One Good Knight is the second tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, taking our focus to a small, Grecian-inspired coastal kingdom named Arcadia.  The protagonist this time is Princess Andromeda, daughter of Queen Cassiopeia.  The Princess is a quiet bookworm who is simply not given enough credit for her intelligence.  The first portion of the book, once more, focuses on daily life and Andie’s duties and responsibilities as Princess.  However, things suddenly change one day, turning the Kingdom upside down with fear.  They have a dragon problem.

A Champion has been sent for to fight on Arcadia’s behalf, but so far, there’s no sign of his arrival.  And when a delegation makes it to the Glass Mountain Chapterhouse to speak with Godmother Elena, it’s revealed that there’s far more going on than meets the eye.

It’s an easy read, even with a plot twist or two, and very predictable.  But not in a bad way.  One Good Knight is a great comfort read, the sort of book that you know the moment you see it that it’s going to have a happy ending, and you don’t have to worry about sobbing into your pillow as you try to sleep afterwards.

It’s hard to talk about the actual content of this book because it’s so easy to give away major plot points.  The books are…fluff.  There’s not much to them, but they’re as entertaining to read as it is to watch a favorite romantic comedy or Disney movie.  This series is a great one for something to read while I’m taking a break and fortifying myself for something more intense.  I do still have that library book, and unless if something comes up, it’ll probably be next after the Five Hundred Kingdoms.

Of course, I’m also planning on going to a used bookstore in the near future…so that could have an impact on my reading selection.

Fairy Tales

How well do you know fairy tales?  Are you only familiar with the ones Disney has made into feature length films?  Do you know all those written by the Brothers Grimm?  Or does your knowledge extend further, into other cultures beyond Western Europe?  Regardless of what you may or may not know, have I got a series for you.  This is the Five Hundred Kingdoms by Mercedes Lackey.

The first book, which sets the stage for the world as a whole, is The Fairy Godmother, and answeres that age-old question that somehow, people tend to forget to ask.  Where do Fairy Godmothers come from?  But before we can get to that, we should talk about the world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms first.

We all know some basic fairy tales, such as Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the Princess and the Pea…etc.  In this world, whenever someone’s life begins to resemble one of these tales, a power arises and begins to force their life into that mold.  This power is known as the Tradition, for its impetus is to follow a previously-laid path and further reinforce it as a Tradition.  So, after Elena Klovis’ mother died and her father remarried a self-centered woman with two spoiled daughter, the Tradition began to shape her life towards that of Cinderella.  She was an unpaid slave in her own home after her father’s death, but there was no ball for her to attend when she was sixteen.  After all, the Prince was still a toddler.  Nor did anyone rescue her when she was eighteen.  In fact, it wasn’t until she was twenty-one that her stepmother chose to depart, with her daughters, leaving Elena alone to make her escape.

That’s when she became an apprentice Fairy Godmother.  You see, Godmothers and Wizards in particular are people from failed Traditional paths.  Elena is just one of many failed Cinderellas.  She couldn’t marry her Prince because he was a child, but he could have just as easily been an old man, a Princess, or gay.  Any one of those would have caused the Traditional path to fail, but you can’t explain that sort of logic to a faceless force, which just kept trying harder and harder to push her into the mold.  The feeling of pressure surrounding her was magic, which she, as an apprentice Godmother, was then able to use.

The duties of a Fairy Godmother are innumerable.  Essentially, they try to guide the Tradition into beneficial paths for the Kingdom or Kingdoms they are responsible for, while preventing it from taking more destructive ones.  It’s no easy task, especially as there’s nowhere near five hundred Godmothers or Wizards, the latter being the male counterpart to the former.  Then you consider that Evil Sorcerors and the like generally only need to focus on a single country, and the Godmother is responsible for several…it can be a challenging job.

The Fairy Godmother divides fairly neatly into two sections.  First we examine Elena’s life as she’s known it, then we get into her new existence as an Apprentice Godmother.  The second half is later, after she’s on her own and starts off with a low-risk Quest she’s assisting with.  Both halves are good, though the first part is probably stronger and more interesting and the second is something of a precis for what the series is.  It’s in the first half that the world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms is established and the reader is introduced to the Tradition and its power and function.  The second half is…well…these aren’t in the romance section.  Aside from the fact that they are definitely fantasy books, the Five Hundred Kingdoms tales are fully of sappy and obvious romance as the main characters seek and earn their Happily Ever Afters.

When I said that I wanted to read something lighter than my big, hardcover copy of The Summer Queen, I meant it on two levels.  Not only do I have mass market paperbacks for all but one of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books, but they are such light reads that I finished a 480 page book in a single day, without staying up late, and this is by far the longest entry in the series.  None are so short that I need to bring more than one to work, but they are not at all difficult to read.  Really, the biggest challenge you’ll find here is recognizing every fairy tale that is referenced.  I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know all of them.  I can recognize most, of course, and especially those which Lackey seems to prefer, but I should also point out that the plots of these books don’t always follow the strictest interpretations of the stories they draw upon.  Which, of course, makes them better books for it.

So, of to the next sugary saccharine tale of Adventure, Love, and Magic in the Five Hundred Kingdoms!

In the Details

Happily Ever After Isn’t.

I propose this as an alternate title for The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge.

I think I pointed out that Tangled Up in Blue and World’s End are smaller stories elaborating on background events in The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen, respectively.  World’s End in particular is a very important story to the series as a whole, but The Summer Queen both starts before it and ends after it.  By a long shot.

Our heroes from The Snow Queen in particular are adults and move onto a new phase of their lives; new careers, new homes, being parents, etc.  And the story takes place on several worlds at once.  New characters are also introduced, of course, and the plot gets rather convoluted at times when you consider how many hands are attemtping to stir the pot.

It’s worth noting that Tammis Dawntreader, the son of the Summer Queen herself, is probably the first pansexual character I’ve noticed in a book.  The boy likes his sex with all the people.  Sparks Dawntreader is hinted to be bisexual, or at least open to more than heterosexual relations, but I always read that to be more of a “gaming, drugs, and sex” type thing, where he doesn’t necessarily do it because that’s what he genuinely wants.  Sparks is a rather dark character at times, so it’s hard to get a read on what he prefers.  Tammis strikes me as more genuine and far more innocent.

There is a lot going on in The Summer Queen and it covers about eighteen years of real time.  Politics, religion, and shadowy circumnavigation are the least of it, because it all starts at the cover.

I haven’t really spoken about the covers too much with this series, aside from the strange black/white issue of World’s End and a photo of my collection of books titled The Snow Queen.  That’s because it’s only my copy of The Summer Queen which has a cover worth mentioning, showcasing the amazing art of Michael Whelan.  The man’s attention to detail is almost unreal, and he’s done quite a number of recognizable covers in sci-fi/fantasy.  But it’s the pair of The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen that I cannot stop staring at, so much so that I made them my computer background more than two years ago.  He’s been doing this for forty years or more, and is still producing amazing work to this day.

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On the left, the Snow Queen Arienrhod.  On the right, the Summer Queen Moon Dawntreader.  (Funny how we never do find out Arienrhod’s shipname.  She obviously has one because everyone on the planet does, but some are actual names of the colony ships bringing humans to Tiamat, and others are just last names.  Except that Tiamatans also add “Winter” or “Summer” at the end, after the shipname, to indicate which of the two groups they spring from.)  Anyway, you can see that the details on these two images are exquisite.  Masks are used in the books for the Festivals of Change, so it’s fitting, but there are so many details in them that you can pick up only by reading the books.  Arienrhod showcases her Starbuck, the mers, technology, Sparks and his flute…etc.  Moon shows off the mers, her companions, the triskle of the sibyls, Survey, and more.  The longer you look, the more you see, and I love it.  Even now I’m still noticing more details every time I examine these images.

Once I knew The Summer Queen existed, it took me a few years to track it down.  I’m not entirely certain why, but I’ve only ever seen it for sale once in person.  My friend had taken me to an odd little used bookstore off the Brown Line in the city.  The place was…strange.  Organization consisted of books being piled in separate nooks according to genre.  By sheerest luck, I found an old library copy of The Summer Queen in the sci-fi/fantasy corner.  Of course it was also a cash only place, but I was happy to pay close to cover price for it.

I always have mixed emotions reading this book.  It is nowhere near as engaging as World’s End, though it builds strongly off of the events of that novel.  It’s a book that I put down a lot as I’m reading it…and not just because it’s a library hardcover and rather heavy.  There’s a lot that I am reluctant to read, though very little that I actively dislike.  And yet…the book resolves itself and the series.  And I do greatly enjoy the ending.  Still, it doesn’t resonate as strongly for me as other books do, probably because I have a hard time getting into it.

I did stop by the library last week to pick up a hold, but I think for my shoulder’s sake I’ll find something a little lighter to read first.

Mean, Cruel, and Heartless to Characters

How many books start with an author wondering how they can screw up a character?  Drive them insane, torture them, nearly (or actually) kill them?  Needless to say, I think World’s End most definitely falls into that category.  Unlike the rest of the series, most of the book is told in first person, as compared to the more usual third person.  I tis, in fact, a verbal recording of BZ Gundhalinu’s adventures.  Yes, BZ has gone from a secondary character in The Snow Queen to a primary character in Tangled Up in Blue, and is now the main character of World’s End.  So we really get into his head and see him completely losing his mind as he is still recovering from the events on Tiamat.

I’ll note that the book says this is the “second novel in the cycle,” but a quick check of publication dates explains it.  The Snow Queen was published in 1980, and World’s End followed in 1984.  Tangled Up in Blue is the latest of the series, dating from 2000. It was likely written to further flesh out the world and revisit it, whereas World’s End existed to further BZ’s character and the plot of the series.

The series always comes back to the sibyls, you see.  The dictionary definition calls it a woman who can foretell the future or speak for the gods.  In the context of Vinge’s world, sibyls are people who are biologically contaminated in a way that they can interface with a sophisticated machine that contains most human knowledge.  People ask questions of sibyls and are connected either with a sibyl on another planet who knows the answer or the vast databanks of the computer where it resides.  Sibyls are the key to knowledge, a legacy of the Old Empire that collapsed a thousand years before.  The Empire was vaster than anything modern people can imagine, with ships capable of traveling faster than light.  However, this technology was lost in the collapse.  People say “come the Millenium” now, meaning the return of the stardrive either through innovative research or furious digging into the ruins of the past.

I love World’s End.  It is a screwed up, twisted story that grips me and takes me on a crazy adventure.  I’m noticing a theme here, as it relates to my enjoyment of C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season, as well as C.J. Cherryh’s Sunfall, and “In the Flesh” by Steve Perry and John DeCamp (out of Bolos Book 4: Last Stand) among others.  None of these stories is quite like any of the others, which is a good thing, because you can only read the same story reiterated so many times.  But they all are the kind of story that I find myself randomly contemplating later.  Not just minutes or hours later, but months and years later.  It’s been at least two years since I last reread World’s End, and I don’t think I read the rest of the series that time.

Funny story, I had two copies of World’s End at one point.  This was obviously before I started using an app to keep track of my library (so incredibly helpful when I’m at the used bookstore), but that might not have helped.  I had discovered that The Snow Queen had sequels, and determined to find them.  So I managed to pick up a copy of World’s End and Tangled Up in Blue relatively quickly, only to discover, when I took another glance in the basement, that my dad already had the former.  Oddly enough, I seemed to have two different versions, one with a white cover and one with a black cover.  The illustration is identical, and the edition is the same between the two.  I don’t know what the difference was, but in the end I kept the black one, because I found it more aesthetically pleasing.  I no longer remember which my dad had originally.

The real challenge, when I was collecting the rest of the series, was the bookend to The Snow QueenThe Summer Queen.  But I’ll save that story for another day.

Insert Book

In case you didn’t know, Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen is the first book in a series.  So, you can easily guess what I’m going to be reading the next couple days.  Today’s volume was Tangled Up in Blue.  I can’t really say it’s the second book.  It was the last of the series that I had to track down, and it takes place within the span of time covered by The Snow Queen.  In fact, it covers a short period of less than a year near the beginning of the other book.

I wouldn’t recommend reading Tangled Up in Blue first though.  It’s The Snow Queen that sets the stage, introducing us to the city of Carbuncle on the world of Tiamat.  Even to some of the key characters, like Sergeant BZ Gundhalinu and Inspector Geia Jerusha PalaThion.  And, since this is my second time reading through Tangled Up in Blue and my first reading it within a better context of the series, I can see the plots and devices that are being set up for later in the series.  Not to say that The Snow Queen doesn’t do similar work, but those pieces aren’t nearly as much of a focal point as the relationship between Moon and Sparks, the motivation which defines the book and original fairy tale.

The Snow Queen tells us that Carbuncle means two things: a valuable gem and an a festering sore, and that the city by that name is both at once.  We see both sides in the first book, but this one dives much deeper into the latter.  The underworld of Carbuncle is vast and murky and filled with all the nightmares sentient species can imagine, and the book doesn’t even go that deep into it.

One thing I should point out is that Joan D. Vinge writes strong female characters.  The Snow Queen herself is one, Moon is another, Inspector PalaThion a third.  And it’s the Police Inspector who deals with the most sexism on a daily basis.  She’s from a planet where women have clearly defined traditional roles…and most of the force seems to be from that same planet.  Needless to say, she fights an uphill battle every day.  PalaThion is not one of the main characters in Tangled Up in Blue the way she was in The Snow Queen, but she is still present and her value is not diminished in any way, despite the fact that the main characters in this volume are male.

Overall, Tangled Up in Blue is nothing special.  It adds to the world of The Snow Queen without detracting from it, but there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or compelling about it.  Yes, it does set up future plot points, but as I discovered when I first set out to read the rest of the series, you can do without it.  It is not a bad book at all.  Just…your average science fiction tale of a police officer getting in over his head on an alien planet.

Science Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beast is not my favorite fairy tale.  It may be my favorite as adapted by Disney, but that’s not the story that has drawn me time and time again over the years.  That’s not the one I have three different books of, all with the same name.  It’s not the story that drew me to a book on my dad’s shelves more than fifteen years ago.  It’s not the story Disney failed to retell.

That would be The Snow Queen.

The oldest of my three books is, of course, by Hans Christian Andersen.  It’s a beautifully illustrated copy that I’ve always enjoyed coming back to over the years.  But I haven’t reread it lately, not that I need to.  The newest of the three is, even less surprisingly, by Mercedes Lackey.  It’s an entry into her 500 Kingdoms series, which I haven’t yet covered on this blog.  But that day is not today.

No, this is the middle book, in terms of when I personally acquired it.  Or in terms of publication date, since Hans Christian Andersen is long dead, I bought the Lackey book when it had just come out in paperback, and today’s book was published before I was born.  This is The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge.

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Right away, Vinge introduces the reader to the planet Tiamat, where the Summer and Winter are each over a century long.  It’s located convenient to a black hole, which offworlders use to travel between a network of planets.  Of course, Tiamat is n a binary star system which plays havoc…meaning that the black hole is only passable during the Winter season, and not at all in Summer.  So the Winter people are much more technologically inclined than the Summer.  And yes, the planet is divided into the two groups, one who is in ascendance during the Summer and one during the Winter.

Sounds more like standard eighties science fiction than a fairy tale, right?

Well, what are the elements of the Snow Queen as a fairy tale?  There is a girl and a boy.  The boy is taken by the Queen, who has set a piece of glass or ice in him, that freezes his gaze and makes him uncaring towards the girl.  The girl sets out after him, growing as a heroine on her journey.  She is captured by bandits at one point, but escapes with the help of the little bandit girl who is selfish, but learns to care enough to let her go.  She reaches the Queen’s castle, finds the boy, and manages to melt his heart and restore him to her.

This book is The Snow Queen in every sense of the word.  Every element of the original story is present in some fashion, though there is a lot more going on.  After all, my children’s book is only 114 pages long with illustrations.  This novel is 536 pages long with much smaller type, more text per page, and no images save the cover itself.

When I first read Vinge’s The Snow Queen, I enjoyed the book for the story it presented.  However, the more I reread it, the more I realize how faithfully she recreated the old fairy tale in a new setting.  Which makes me very happy and excited as I read and say “yes, exactly!  This is The Snow Queen!”  It’s not a reaction I have when reading the more conventional retellings of various fairy tales in the fantasy genre, probably because they’re much closer to the original just by being fantasy.  Vinge isn’t the only person to trasncribe a fairy tale to science fiction, nor would I assume her to be the first.  Still, I like to find my old favorite skilfully transformed into a new adventure that is still recognizable as its former self.

Tortall

Last time I talked about how rewarding the finale of the Claymore manga was after 27 volumes, instead of the measly 26 episodes of the anime.  It’s a similar expression to the feeling I get with the books I finished today, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.  It’s only the Trickster’s duology by Tamora Pierce, so you wouldn’t think to compare it to an epic finale.  Not unless you’re familiar with the series that this comes from, of course.

Tamora Pierce has two main series.  That of the Magic Circle, which I cannot stand in the least (and yes, I did try.  At one point I had the first quartet and the first book of The Circle Opens and I realized then that I just do not like those books.), and Tortall.  I first encountered the latter series when my mom bought me a copy of Alanna: The First Adventure roughly twenty years ago.  That would be book one in the Song of the Lioness, the first Tortall book ever written, published back in 1983.

I’m not here to talk about the Lioness quartet or any of the other sets in this series that has steadily grown over the past thirty years, however.  The protagonist of the Trickster books is none other than Alliane, known to most as Aly, daughter of Alanna.  She’s sixteen in Trickster’s Choice, and these two books are about how she comes into her own place in the world, instead of being overshadowed by her blood and adoptive family.

I hope you can see why this particular set makes me think of finales and fulfillment now.

The world of Tortall is, of course, based on our own.  Tortall and its immediate neighbors are based on Western Europe.  Scanra, to the north, is clearly Scandinavia, Carthak in the south is definitely Egypt, the Eastern Lands are not especially fleshed out, and then we have the Western islands.  The Yamani Islands in the north are Japan and then we move to the focus of these books, the Copper Isles.  I’d say these are the Caribbean.  After all, we have the brown people (raka) whose land was invaded by white people (luarin) and conquered three hundred years previously.  Slavery is most definitely a weapon here, and the climate is a jungle.

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen are yet another example of the interest in spy books that I’ve seen in my reading.  It’s one of the earliest of the current trend, having been published in 2003, five years before Mercedes Lackey started writing about Mags in the Collegium Chronicles.  Which is probably part of why it doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as the Herald-Spy books; this duology is older and I was less disposed against spy books when I first read it.  Admittedly, part of the problem in this case is that I have the amazing talent to pick out older sci-fi that happens to be along similar lines and read it at a time when I am less than interested in this type of book, but there’s not too much I can do about that.  I’d rather move to books I am intrigued to read, even if they’re on a theme that I’m tired of, than force myself to read books I cannot currently muster any interest in.

Another difference is that Tamora Pierce has always written for kids and young adults; that is to say, 12 is a good age to start reading her.  If you’re me, you probably started younger, but I’ll say 12 as an average.  Of course, it’s never too late to pick up a good author, so there’s that.  But because the majority of spy books I’ve read have been written for adults or general audiences, the Trickster books still stand out from them.

There’s also something about these two books that makes their ending seem more satisfying than other parts of the Tortall series.  Maybe it’s because these are the most recent books on the timeline; everything else takes place years or centuries earlier.  Maybe it’s because there’s only the two books when all the other sets are three or four.  Or maybe I just find Aly’s story more engrossing than some of the others.  Some of the earlier books can be a bit dry, but it’s only to be expected that Pierce’s writing would improve with time.  Regardless, I’m always happy to take the time to reread Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.  Even if the latter is starting to take damage each time I open it up…