Monday, December 7, 2009
December: Roundtable for Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen
The longest roundtable ever!
readergirlz roundtable: Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce
Little Willow: Welcome to the Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen roundtable! We have some special folks joining us today. Please welcome back Alexia, one of our original postergirlz. Also say hello to Arielle and Suze. I have very lengthy, involved conversations about books with each of these ladies. Since both of them really enjoy the works of Tamora Pierce, I invited them to today's discussion.
Lorie Ann Grover: Welcome, Suze and Arielle! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. And welcome home, Alexia! Woot!
Little Willow: I love these roundtables, and I'm tickled pink to see so many people here. Thanks to all of you for joining us, and thanks to Google Docs for making it possible for readergirlz from around the world to take part in these book discussions.
Lorie Ann: Tamora Pierce is the Queen of Heroines for YA readers. It's a thrill she has the time to visit with us in December. Let's dive into her duology. Just have your crown and sword at the ready, rgz - Let's get started!
Suze: I've been reading Tamora Pierce's books since grade eight, I started with the Immortals quartet and then I covered the others in order. I read Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen shortly after each came out. I read them again in November after I heard readergirlz would be discussing them in December.
Alexia: I started reading them when I was in 6th grade. I walked into Brentano's (may you rest in peace) one day, and my favorite cashier lady recommended Tamora Pierce to me. I bought the first book in Song of the Lioness, read it that night and then forced my mother to go back the next day and buy the remaining books. All 15 or so of them. I've read all of the newer ones as they've been released, and I still reread them regularly whenever I have bad or stressful days. In fact, I have Trickster's Choice, Emperor's Mage (of the Immortal's Quartet) and Lioness Rampant (of the Song of the Lioness quartet) on my bookshelf in my dorm room. I'm not kidding.
Suze: See! Now that was smart. Like an idiot, I left all of my books in Canada and had to go get them from the library!
Alexia: I knew that I couldn't really function without at least a few of them, so when I was packing up some books to take with me, I threw in a few Pierce's, and I switch them out with other Pierce novels whenever I go home. They come in so much handy on bad days.
Dia: I've read several Tamora Pierce novels before the Trickster's Duet. I enjoyed the complexity of the Trickster's Duet.
Lorie Ann: I've read Tamora for years. Maybe my first ones were the Song of the Lioness? I just remember I had to pry them out of my daughters' hands for my turn.
Arielle: I started reading them in the 5th grade. I was going to Nerd Camp at Stanford and while buying my books for camp in the bookstore my mom came up and handed me Alanna the First Adventure thinking that I would like it. I did and since then have been reading them.
Jackie: I discovered Tamora Pierce when I first started working in libraries - I kept shelving them and was totally intimidated by the sheer number of books she had written. I knew that most of them were interconnected, but I couldn't easily figure out what order I was supposed to read them in, so I didn't read them for a long time. Finally, the children's librarian there told me to read Alanna the First Adventure and I was HOOKED. I read every book she had published at that point, about 18 books, I think, within three weeks. It was a total binge.
Shelf Elf: These two are my very first Tamora Pierce experiences. Working as a kids' bookseller, I sold a whole lot of Tamora's books, and I've always meant to start reading her novels. Now I finally did!
HipWriterMama: I can't believe I haven't read Tamora Pierce's books until now. Love her strong heroines!
Little Willow: If you are a regular Pierce reader, do you favor the Tortall Universe, where the Trickster novels are set, or the Circle Universe?
Alexia: I tend to prefer the Tortall Universe purely because there are more books set in it and we get to follow some of the characters for such a long time that they feel like relatives that you see once in a while at big family events. Also, I may have a little thing for knights. I love the Circle universe in its own way because of its in-depth exploration of how magic might actually work. And Briar is awesome.
Arielle: Briar is very awesome, and I don't think I've ever gotten over how cool his name is. However, I greatly prefer the Tortall Universe. I enjoy the stories more and the characters more, and I'm quite a bit more attached to them since something like 30 book-years have passed since the beginning of the Tortall Universe.
Jackie: There's really isn't much of a contest for me. I definitely prefer the Tortall books. However, I very much enjoyed The Will of the Empress, set in the Circle world.
Lorie Ann: Tortall for me!
Little Willow: Aly is the daughter of Alanna, the protagonist of Pierce's first novel and subsequent series, the Song of the Lioness quartet. If you lived in The Tortall Universe, to whom would you like to be related?
Suze: I would definitely want to be related to Daine, probably because of my love for animals.
Alexia: Daine is totally my favorite too! But, I think I would definitely want to be related to Alanna; even as a child her story was extremely inspirational and it sometimes pushed me to be a better, braver person.
Jackie: George, I think. Charming, impish, devilishly clever, fiercely loyal to loved ones, principled in his own way... really, it sounds like I'd like to date him...
Arielle: Raoul for sure. He would be the greatest uncle/big brother/dad/anything ever. Or Kel, I wouldn't mind being related to Kel either, as one of her many nieces.
Lorie Ann: Nawat!
Little Willow: Alanna has been featured in other books as well. If you read these books in order: Did you enjoy seeing her grow up? If you read them out of order, did you go back and read them in the proper order?
Suze: I read everything in order once I'd finished with the Immortals. One of my favorite things about reading the series is that I always get to catch a glimpse of what my favorite characters are up to.
Alexia: That's totally true! The cameo appearances were what I looked forward to the most, and I liked that the books were written, for the most part, as quartets because the readers could really see the main character grow up and mature. Alanna in particular we follow from the young age of 8 or 9 to her mid-40s in the Tricksters books. It's comforting knowing that your favorite characters are still around and knowing where they ended up.
Suze: I completely agree! Whenever I finish a book, I'm always left wondering what will happen to that character next week, let alone 10 years from now - Pierce solves this problem completely! Well, except the part where I'm still waiting to find out what becomes of Aly, but I suppose I should have faith...
Alexia: Oh, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Aly. And going back to Daine, I also loved the little glimpses we get of her in the books. She has children! Good for her. I loved her story and Numair is a sweetheart. I may have a bit of a crush on him.
Suze: Yes! I definitely love catching up with Daine, and her CHILDREN! I especially love how she stuck to her guns about not marrying Numair right away, and luckily we still get to hear about the marriage in the later books!
Dia: I read the Alanna books in order, just as I write in order; I'm very sequential. After I read the first I gobbled up the others. I, too, love cameo appearances by well loved characters. I would have liked more of the Lioness in the Trickster books, but that might have stolen the show from Aly.
Lorie Ann: I always need to read in order. And I love appearances of beloved characters. Yay for seeing Daine again! As well as Numair. :~)
Little Willow: Though I very much liked Aly's name, two of my favorite characters happened to have birdlike names: Dove and Nawat Crow. Dove was so calm and so mature for her age. When asked why she spent so much time talking to a man old enough to be her grandfather, she explains, "He's one of the few people who can keep up with me, and I with him. It's a pleasant change from having to slow down to deal with most people." I knew exactly what she meant.
Suze: Dove is very insightful and smart, and I totally understand how she felt. Growing up, I often found myself in the company of older people, for some reason talking to them always seemed so much easier.
Lorie Ann: Dove reminds me of homeschooled teens I know: comfortable with many generations, mature, wanting to learn as much as possible. I heart Dove!
Little Willow: On that note, who were your favorite characters in either or both books?
Dia: Aly was my favorite character. I loved her intelligence and her growth.
Shelf Elf: I think Dove was my favorite of all. I'm partial to those characters who aren't flashy, who sit in the background a bit but who notice everything. Whenever Dove spoke, her words were clever and insightful.
Little Willow: Were there any characters from either of these novels or from previous Tortall works that you wished had more screen time in this duology? I was expecting cats, so when I didn't get them, I was glad to at least have the crows and the darkings. I wanted the kudarungs to speak.
Suze: The Kudarung spoke to the darkings!
Little Willow: Oh, that's right! Another reason why I think the darkings are so cool: their abilities to communicate not only telepathically amongst their own kind, but with other species as well.
Dia: The crows were original! I wanted more.
Shelf Elf: Me too, Dia! I would have loved to have learned more about the other crows, besides Nawat.
Dia: I think Pierce could write an entire novel from one of the crow's point of view.
Suze: In the Immortals series, it's established that the only Immortals that can speak to humans are those with human faces or characteristics, with the exception of the dragons which are scholars. I also love George he has been one of my favorites since the Alanna series way back when.
Little Willow: I was fond of George from the start. I would love to see a father-daughter spytime story focused on a collaborative project between George and Aly.
Dia: What a terrific idea, LW!
Suze: I like your spytime story! I would love to see that! Actually, at the end of Trickster's Queen, Aly and George have a little moment where they discuss George's spies in the Isles, I think this could lead to a very fun vicious cycle of Aly shipping George's spies back, and then George finding more for Aly to ship back...
Arielle: Yes, I really missed George in this book, and reading more about his and Aly's interactions would be really fun. I thought that Alan should've been a bit more important. Being a twin myself, it's weird to think that Aly really didn't think about him much.
Little Willow: Yes! I wanted her to consider her brothers far more often than she did.
Jackie: Perhaps she was a little happy to finally not be the little sister, and independent at last.
Little Willow: Good point.
Lorie Ann: I found myself always smiling whenever Nawat was on scene. Winnamine fairly rocked her role, too.
Little Willow: If you were a character in a Tamora Pierce novel, what would your name be? Examples: Alianne of Pirate's Swoop. Kim Novak of Mermaid Lagoon. (First Name) of (Place Name).
Dia: I would be Dia of the Golden Hills. After the golden sun-daisies which bloom on the hills at our farm in Eastern Washington.
Little Willow: Oh, that's pretty, Dia! I would be Allie Cat of Whisker Lake.
Dia: That's perfect for you, LW.
Shelf Elf: Hmm... Kerry of the River Dales, after my neighborhood, Riverdale.
Lorie Ann: Lorie Ann of the Aspen Grove, just because.
Little Willow: Early in the first book, Trickster's Choice, Aly is captured and made into a slave. What did you think of this surprising turn of events?
Suze: I was disappointed, but for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to see more of George and Alanna. Luckily, Kyprioth fixed that with the dream sequences, though.
Alexia: I thought it was a very interesting choice on Tamora Pierce's part because it was so drastically different from Alanna's story. Alanna chose the life she led and, for the most part, made most of the decisions concerning who she wanted to become. Aly was thrust into this drama and excitement and was thus forced to mature and take responsibility without ever really deciding what she wanted to be.
Dia: I wondered how she would get out of it!
Shelf Elf: I thought it was a great decision in terms of revealing her character. The way she handled it, immediately trying to respond to her situation and direct her fate, taught me a lot about her cleverness and ingenuity.
Lorie Ann: I thought it a great experience for her to understand a condition beyond her scope previously and thereby gain empathy.
Little Willow: What did you think of the way slavery and racism were depicted and discussed in these novels? What about the controversy regarding mixed lineage, and the line to the throne?
Suze: One of the things I like best about Pierce's world is how thorough it is. She has each detail down to an art from geography, to religion to magic. One of my favourite key details is how godparents are not godparents but "godsparents," because they worship more than one god. Yet despite it being a primarily fantasy series, she parallels her world to ours through politics, racism and slavery. I do believe that the way slavery and racism were depicted were very similar to how things were in our world back in the day and age of slavery. In some places, they are probably even accurate today.
Dia: I thought that Aly's treatment as a slave seemed unlikely. One of the latest Ursula LeGuin novels, Voices, is also about a slave who is well treated from childhood and so not really aware of the great injustice because it is programmed into him. I wonder if Aly's story would have been too dark for a Pierce book if Aly had been mistreated.
Lorie Ann: I appreciated Tamora showing all the sides and history of slavery and racism in this world. It helps transport truths and understanding to our own.
Little Willow: Let's talk about that: Aly is charged with protecting the Balitangs, who, unlike other royals or members of the upper class, treat their servants and slaves well, ultimately declaring Aly to be like family. What did you think of the way they ran their household?
Alexia: Obviously the Balitangs are a great example of nobility who treat their household well, and this trait is mentioned several times throughout the books -- I think one of their most unique qualities was that they bothered to take the time to get to know the key members of their household, and obviously their trust paid off in the end. Had the Balitangs acted poorly towards their servants or slaves they would not feel the need to protect the family like they do. Quoting from the Harry Potter series (I know the Nerd Alert is going off full blast), "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." In this respect the Balitangs prove to be lovely, lucky people.
Lorie Ann: Obviously, they were exemplary. Although, Mequen's trust drove me nuts. Thankfully, he had the duchess at his side.
HipWriterMama: The Balitangs treated their household well.
Little Willow: Suze, you said you wanted to talk about feminism and how females are depicted in the books.
Suze: Ah, you have such a good memory, Little Willow! I do find the feminism angles to be interesting. How the Raka are still allowed to pass inheritance down through the female line, while the luarins just plain don't. It's interesting that this particular law was not challenged by a greedy luarin or part-blood luarin somewhere along the way. Then there's the whole controversy at the idea of putting a Queen on the throne...
Lorie Ann: It was refreshing to see a matriarchal society in the Raka. It made Tortall richer for me.
Little Willow: Aly finally gets her wish: to be a spy. I know at least two of us here wouldn't mind being spies. I'd tell you who, but then I'd... you know.
Alexia: Little Willow wasn't referring to me. Nope, not at all.
Little Willow: Oh, no. Not at all. What were your favorite spy techniques or tricks used in the books? I loved the darkings! Trick and Secret made the second book for me, they really did.
Dia: I thought the darkings were another stroke of originality genius. I'd love to know the brain flash that Tamora used to come with them.
Alexia: Speaking of spies, I loved the little excerpts that were at the beginning of some chapters from letters or books that Aly had been given by her father. Not only have I tried some of those techniques (flour in front of the cabinet works every time; little brother, pay attention next time), but I thought that they were an interesting look into certain spy tricks that were actually used and made me curious enough to do some research about espionage on my own.
Shelf Elf: I enjoyed the letters too, because they highlighted Ally's relationship with her father and gave insight into the spying life.
Arielle: Frankly, I loved the fighting. Because it wasn't the same as a knight's training in fighting. I love the hand-to-hand combat and the knife fights. Also, I just how keen Aly was about everything. Just the way her mind worked, having been almost trained to be a spy since a young age, was really interesting.
Lorie Ann: Well, be warned. I love walking our dog at night, so I can peek in everyone's windows. Brava, Tamora for all the rich spy detail.
Little Willow: Let's discuss the differences between the Balitangs daughters: young, quiet Dove, an observant girl who is able to hide her feelings and not give away what she's feeling/thinking, and a surprisingly good archer, and her older sister Sarai, the romantic ingenue who is swept off of her feet twice, once in each book, with an unlikely strength when it comes to swordplay.
Alexia: What I loved about this set-up was that it showed two fundamentally different sides of a human personality, but both with equal strength, grace and amazingness. Sarai may have kicked more butt in the books, but Dove was always there with her quiet wisdom and gentleness to smooth the way. In the end, I think both of the girls were necessary to achieve the end result: Sarai to inspire the legions of people with her passion, beauty and single-minded purpose, but Dove was definitely the better choice to do the day-to-day ruling.
Dia: Dove's growth was fascinating. It wasn't so much growth as a slow revelation of character. She was the only possible queen.
Shelf Elf: Here, here Dia! Dove is far more measured and she is certainly whip-smart, excellent characteristics for any leader.
Dia: And she has restraint, something that Sarai lacks.
Alexia: It actually surprised me how long it took people to see how amazing Dove was. Throughout the second book I just wanted to shake some people and tell them to pay attention to the quiet, smart girl.
Suze: Yes! I know EXACTLY how you felt. Of course, it's also sadly accurate. I have seen it often in jobs I have worked, where the wrong person gets promoted, usually because that person is more popular, while the quiet girl that would actually do a proper and fair job goes completely ignored! Humans often refuse to see what's right in front of them, and then they act so shocked when it bashes them in the head...
Lorie Ann: Laughing out loud, Suze! So true. *standing ovation for Dove*
HipWriterMama: Dove and Sarai set each other off so well. Two sisters who bore the "burden and responsibility" of their heritage in different ways.
Little Willow: The Trickster in the title is Kyprioth, the god of tricksters in Aly's world. One of my favorite exchanges between Aly and Kyprioth comes in Trickster's Choice:
Kyprioth chuckled, rubbing glowing hands together. "The first act ends," he told Aly as he put his arm around her waist. "The next begins."
"Except you won't tell me what it is," Aly said as they soared through the palace roof. "It'll be like leaving before the play's over. Why can't you just tell me how you want it to come out?"
"Because you suffer so prettily, dear," Kyprioth informed her as they leaped into the starry night.
Alexia: Wily, wily man.
Dia: Kyprioth was so much fun in his unpredictability.
Shelf Elf: If I had been Aly, he would have made me crazy.
Lorie Ann: Kyprioth was one of my favorite characters! Almost listed him above. Just have to love his trickstery ways!
Little Willow: Did any random lines catch your attention? I liked this line, spoken by Taybur: "Look, there's the first firefly. Make a wish." When he says this in the middle of imparting some important information to Aly, I saw, in my mind's eye, a firefly flicker and fly past them. I loved that little glimmer of hope, and the unexpected commentary.
Suze: I love all of Nawat's comments in Trickster's Choice back when he first becomes a crow. The simplistic way of which he views life...
"A Hawk," Nawat said firmly, his eyes on his work once more. "He will drive you off your own kill and steal your nestlings. He should be mobbed, before he steals any of yours. Shall you and I mob him?"
Little Willow: I loved it when Trick tickled Aly until she awoke, telling her: "Sleep or big news? Pick!" He always sounded like a little kid, and I loved his little voice!
Suze: After Aly points out that Bronau comes with soldiers leaving them outnumbered:
"We could mate," Nawat suggested eagerly. "In a year our nestlings would be large enough to mob anyone we like. Shall I court you? Do you like grubs or ants better?"
Little Willow: I'll pass on both the grubs and the ants, thank you very much!
Arielle: Yes, pretty much anything that Nawat said had me laughing.
HipWriterMama: Oh, that was funny. Can you imagine, an offering of grubs or ants in a courtship? Though for a crow, it would mean the world.
Shelf Elf: Yes, he was sweet and lovely and kind of simple in his view in the beginning.
Lorie Ann: I enjoyed the advice to Young Noblewomen by Lady Fronia of Whitehall: "No well-born maiden ever suffered from keeping her suitors at arm's length." But that's just the mom in me. Ha!
Little Willow: Have you read other myths or novels related to tricksters? Anasazi Boys by Neil Gaiman comes to mind.
Lorie Ann: Just Anansi the Spider from African folklore. And Greek messenger Hermes. Raven is a trickster to Pacific Northwest Native Americans. I just watched the French movie Amelie, and she certainly fits the role.
Little Willow: In Trickster's Choice, Dove tells Aly, "Everybody needs heroes...Everybody. Even grown women. Even slaves." Discuss.
Alexia: Yesyesyesyesyes! This is why Tamora Pierce's books are so amazing, because it's absolutely true that we all need heroes. Even though most of us will never become knights, spymasters or shapeshifters (hey, who knows?) the strength and grace exhibited by every one of those women is so easily translated to real life that I find myself as a freshman in college still turning to the books for guidance. These were women who fought for what they believed in and forged their own unique paths in the world, who wouldn't want to follow in their awesome footsteps?
Shelf Elf: I agree with Alexia, that both of the featured books this month can offer readers guidance, for our real world. Without heroes, would our world be an inspiring place?
Lorie Ann: Perfect explanation, Alexia. I can't imagine allowing anyone to rob me of heroes as I age. They are mine!
HipWriterMama: Yes to heroes!
Dia: Everyone needs heroes because everyone needs hope.