I generally follow a rule of “only post a review the first time I read a book,” and while that seems like a reasonable policy to stick to, I do occasionally feel the desire to break from it. In this case, it’s a little bit that I feel silly not acknowledging that I’ve just finished reading 9 books, but mostly that I want to heap praise upon Tamora Pierce, who is one of my absolute favorite authors.
This time, what I read through was all the books that, to a greater or lesser degree, focus on a member of the Cooper family. Following the in-universe chronological order, this was the Beka Cooper trilogy, the Song of the Lioness quartet, and the Trickster’s duology. It is, I’ve realized, an interesting way to read through them. My thoughts, though, are definitely in light of not having this be my first read through.
These three collections of books are a really wonderful way to get acquainted with the Tortall universe. Alanna is the place it all started, the grand fantasy telling a big story about big events. Alanna herself, the Lioness, is a hero known well beyond Tortall’s borders; from Aly’s eyes, we see that even in Rajmuat, an ocean away, people still know of the Lioness. She’s the heroine, moving in the innermost circles of power.
Beka, on the other hand, starts among the lowest of the low. She was born in the slums, the Lower City of Corus, and is desperately uncomfortable around those sorts of powerful people. It’s very nearly the opposite perspective on this universe. Alanna takes her nobility for granted; Beka knows the biggest change she can make is in the lives of a handful of people.
Aly fills out the middle, in a way. She was born into the nobility, daughter of the Lioness, but her heart lies in espionage. She’s a spy, and she winds up enmeshed in a popular uprising. Her work will change the world in a way more akin to Alanna’s than Beka’s, but she won’t be in the history books as the protagonist. Her job is to be invisible, to effect change without being the center of attention. And as she walks between those two worlds, she shows us the spaces between.
I absolutely love a well-built universe like this. You can tell that the Lioness quartet was the first written, because it’s the most compact, the least filled-out of the universe, but each additional series in that world added more. By now, it feels massive, vibrant, and alive. It feels like what the Marvel movies can never quite accomplish; the protagonists of each previous series are present in a way that cinematic universes never manage outside of the anchoring ensemble pieces. There’s no hand-waving of why the hero of the previous one doesn’t show up to help this time—they’ve always got their own lives visible in the new series.1
I love these books, and Tamora Pierce is great. That’s gonna be the end of every review I write of her work; these are comfort-reading for me. I’ll be halfway through a reread of one of her books and only then realize what I’m doing, and that’s how I tell I’m more stressed than I thought. Seriously, go read anything she wrote.2 It’s all excellent.
- Two examples, to compare: Aly can’t call Numair Salmalín, introduced in the Wild Mage quartet, for help, because he’s busy juggling his duties in the Scanran War (the center of the Protector of the Small quartet) and trying to help his wife through her pregnancy.
Captain America can’t call Iron Man to help during the events of The Winter Soldier because… he can’t remember his phone number? The real answer is “because they didn’t want to pay for Robert Downey Junior and the Iron Man VFX,” but there’s no in-universe reason given in a satisfying way. ↩
- These are Bookshop affiliate links – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores. ↩