Trickster’s Choice, by Tamora Pierce, is the first of a new duology set in Pierce’s popular Tortall world. Pierce’s first books in this universe followed Alanna, who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight. Alanna’s daughter, Alianne (Aly), is the protagonist of these books; she’s been been captured by raiders, sold into slavery, and bet by a local god that she can’t keep a family’s children alive through the summer.
Most of this book is perfectly good, the kind of how-to story that Pierce does well—in this case, how to keep a family alive through intrigue and assassins—peopled with interesting characters and some social commentary. (There is a clumsy expositional prologue that I wish had been left out, but apparently readers of Young Adult novels aren’t expected to be that good at picking up on incluing, or waiting for the plot to develop, or something.) However, the book opens with some family conflicts that, frankly, make absolutely no sense to me. (No spoilers, this is all in the first chapter.)
(1) Aly is set up as the odd duck of her family, with an incredibly driven mother, a hyper-competent father, and two brothers who are very involved in learning their chosen professions. She, in contrast, professes to want to do nothing but have fun—which apparent lack of ambition drives her parents nuts.
(2) Aly really, really wants to be a spy out in the field. And she’d be good at it, as we see over the course of the novel. Her parents refuse, saying they don’t want that kind of life for her.
Okay. For starters, Aly’s parents don’t appear to notice that (1) and (2) are mutually exclusive. In fact, Aly herself doesn’t appear to notice. She does come to some insight about her conflicts with her parents over the course of the novel, but not about this. And more importantly: Aly’s father is the one who trained her, over her entire life, to be a spy! Not just as a decoder of reports or an analyst, but an actual in-the-field spy. And then he says that he doesn’t want to risk his daughter as a spy. He’s not a stupid character, but this really does not put him in a good light.
Really, here’s what this feels like to me: Pierce said, last Boskone, that someone (her editor?) suggested she try writing a more laid-back character. Even if Pierce is comfortable with that (as that suggestion indicates, it’s not something she’s done before), the plot requires someone hyper-competent. So this family stuff feels like an unsuccessful attempt at a non-ambitious character—plus an easy way of getting the plot in motion by making Aly avoid her mother by taking a sail, during which she gets captured, but still letting the rest of the plot happen by having Aly be very well-trained in intrigue.
There’s still time for Aly to realize either that her goal in life isn’t just having fun, or that she’s never really meant it but uses the attitude to disarm people. Maybe that’s planned for the second and final book. And heck, we might even get an explanation for her father’s behavior, not that I can think what it would be. I hope so, because this is an interesting story otherwise, but my opinion of it is unfavorably colored by the oddities of the premise.