Thursday, June 20, 2024

Revolution and Spy Work Darken Trickster’s Queen

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Everything seeded in the last book comes to a head in Trickster’s Queen. The novel, published in 2004, brings this duology to a close. It also marks the last novel thus far in which Pierce’s series advances chronologically. The Beka Cooper Trilogy focuses on Tortall’s past, and Tempests and Slaughter focuses on Numair’s past. There are some short stories past this point, but Trickster’s Queen is still significant. As makes sense for such a crucial book, Trickster’s Queen upsets the status quo. The raka revolution come to fruition, and Aly grows into her role of spymaster. Let’s dive into it.

Spoiler warnings for Trickster’s Queen and all of Pierce’s previous novels.

So What Happened?

Aly and the Balitang family return to Rajmuat, the capital city. We discover that Aly trained a pack of spies, and the raka prepared for their revolution over the winter. The Balitangs deal with court intrigue and their great-aunt Nuritin, who’s returned to Balitang house in the capital. Aly deals with Topabaw, the realm’s spymaster. She turns several spies from Topabaw, and begins to unseat him by sowing rumors and with the help of darkings. Jonathan and Thayet sent Tkaa to the Copper Islands, and he brought Aly darkings from the divine realms.

Tensions rise as the raka revolution begins in the outer islands. Sarai grows more popular, befriending the young nobles and a visiting Carthaki healer, Zaimid. Dove discovers the raka revolution, and Aly discovers a luarin conspiracy to limit the Rittevon power, lead by Nuritin Balitang and Duke Nomru. Nawat leaves the capital, feeling useless. The regents kill Topabaw because of Aly’s rumors. The regents try and arrange a betrothal between Sarai and Dunevon, the five-year-old king. The Graveyard Hag helps Sarai and Zaimid run away. On Dunevon’s birthday, the regents send him on a sea voyage and call up a ship-killer storm. He and Elsren die.

Imajane and Rubinyan are crowned, and Aly spreads more rumors. They imprison Duke Nomru, which eventually brings together the luarin and raka conspiracies. They free Nomru, and the rulers blame the luarin nobility. Both conspiracies say the revolution will make Dove queen of the Isles. Assassins strike at Dove when they travel between the palace and their home. The raka riot, and the conspiracy makes their moves. Rubinyan dies in the fighting, and Imajane commits suicide. Ulasim, Junai, and Ochobu die in the fighting. Afterwards, Aly tells the survivors about her Tortallan heritage, and Dove invites her to remain her spymaster.

Character Growth

Aly and Nawat

The revolution changes Aly and Nawat. One of the things that we see from the very beginning is Aly’s growth from a simple spy into a spymaster. She still acts individually, she’s Topabaw’s ‘agent’ in Balitang House and blows up the slave docks. But Ulesim chews her out for the latter escapade, “What I do object to is you taking the command yourself. … But you endangered your people by being there.” (p. 163-4). Being spymaster restricts Aly’s movements, and she chafes slightly at those limitations. Although eventually, she adjusts.

Aly also grows as part of her larger character arc. In the beginning of Trickster’s Choice she claims her only goal in life is to have fun. By Trickster’s Queen that conception of Aly shatters. At the party where Sarai disappears, Aly watches her dancing and compares the two of them and who she was at Tortall. After the disappearance, Aly thinks, “Only a year before, she might have helped Sarai to marry her love rather than be trapped in a political life. … These days I care about duty to those who look to one to lead. These days I care less about fun and more about work.” (p. 265). Her duology-long character arc involves finding work that drives her, that gives her purpose. She finds that in the rebellion and cares more about their revolution than returning to Tortall.

Nawat also grows during the book. He leaves Rajmuat to participate in the revolution more directly, only returning after Elsren and Dunevon’s death. Aly sees, “It was no crow-turned-man who caught her up, but a man, confident in who he was.” (p. 342). This passage allays the power differential between them. Previously, Aly was Nawat’s only link to humanity; now, he has formed an identity separate from her.

Dove and Pierce

The most impressive character arc, or character unveiling, is Dove’s arc. We saw previously that she’s intelligent enough to keep up with Aly. But we never saw how she developed that intelligence and how the political figures of the Islands reacted. Now we know.

When they return to Rajmuat, Aly accompanies Dove on several walks through the city. Dove speaks with merchants, book-sellers, and craftsmen, and she does her best to learn about their work. Her closest friends among the nobility are Duke Nomru and the court astronomer. They fuel her natural intelligence, and she fits in easily with everyone, whether noble, merchant, or beggar.

Shortly after her arrival in Rajmuat, Dove figures out the raka conspiracy and confronts Aly. At her first meeting with the leaders of the revolution, she asks if they have a symbol. “Something that looks like a message, that can be put in places where officials won’t notice it.” (p. 45). Dove also reconciles the luarin and raka conspiracies. They both agree to rally behind her intelligence. After Sarai leaves, Dove struggles with the potentiality of queenship. But with some encouragement from Aly she grows into her new role. She works harder to win the hearts of the common people than Sarai did. Sarai won them with her beauty, but Dove wins them with her kindness.

This book marks character growth for Pierce as well. After Nawat returns following Elsren’s death, he and Aly consummate their relationship. This marks the first sex scene explicitly confirmed in any of Pierce’s work since Lioness Rampant. It further rounds out the more adult world Pierce utilizes in this duology. It also signals that Pierce’s feminism still doesn’t shy away from sexual liberation and contraceptives.

Spy Work

Given our point of view character, this book brims with knowledge about spy work. Aly entirely disdains Topabaw. He began working as spymaster for the Islands decades ago, and everyone dreads his name. Just his testimony proves sufficient to execute anyone, noble or common alike. But when Aly first meets him, his laxity appalls her. “Distant Aly thought, You ham-handed brute. … Ham-handed and lazy, she thought with disgust. … And sloppy” (p. 71). She concludes that Topabaw bought into his own legend and now simply expects that things won’t change.

Aly sets out to bring him down and succeeds by utilizing the power of rumor. She spreads rumors to Topabaw’s spies that the regents don’t trust him. At the same time, her pack spreads rumors to the regents that the Topabaw plots to betray them. Combined with the actions of the revolution, the regents make an example of him at the harbor mouth. The power of rumor mixed with fact also separates Imagjane and Rubinyan. Aly spreads rumors that the Rubinyan wants his son to inherit instead of any children he might have with Imajane in the future. They plant false love letters and an earring, which splits the rulers right before the revolution occurs.

Aly also bribes several of Topabaw’s agents. Vitorcine Townsend in particular is one the narrative interacts with a good deal. Aly and Ulesim discover her sneaking into the ladies private study. At first, they don’t know Topabaw put three death spells on her. When they discovers that Topabaw coerced Vitorcine into spying for him, they binds her in blood to continue to spy for both of them. Aly is kinder to Vitorcine, but even after Topabaw dies, Aly continues using Vitorcine to spy on that household. Vitorcine proves that innocents get caught in the spying game, not just spymasters and those trained for it.


The revolution begins when Dove suggests a symbol might be something good to have. The raka leaders talk about how it will make the regents nervous and unite their followers. To let “the common people and the middle classes know that our country is changing.” (p. 45). They pick an open shackle with a few links of chain, “For freedom.” (p. 46). Aly sees the symbol everywhere, made out of vegetables, carved into a glass window or the belt of a conqueror’s statue. The promise of freedom brings many to their banner.

What also brings people to their banner is the death of Dunevon. Although a Rittevon, the death of a child is always a terrible thing. The Honeypot (a district of Rajmuat), goes up in flames for what seems like the twentieth time this book. In fact, The Honeypot proves the pulse of the rebellion, exploding more frequently as tensions rise. The gods also send signs. Mithros and the Goddess realize what Kyprioth arranged and fight in the divine realms. This creates lights in the sky which terrify everyone equally, and the Honeypot lights on fire again.

The imprisonment of Duke Nomru also proves important for the revolution. It is his imprisonment and the subsequent blame of his liberation on the luarin that forces the luarin conspiracy to act. Then and only then do the two interact and start collaborating. Which brings me to another character who changes a lot in the book: Taybur Sibigat, a luarin. Dunevon’s guard, he devotes himself to the young king and survived the storm that killed him. He knew Aly spied for someone from the first moment and pledged himself to her cause after the shipwreck. This culminates in him capturing Imajane and the Grey Palace for Dove. He is the one who opens the gates and proclaims her queen at the end of the revolution.


This book brings the revolution to a satisfying conclusion. It also handles sensitive issues well. The intersectional feminism of this book staggers me. Pierce manages to utilize race, class, gender, and morality to great effect in Trickster’s Queen. Sarai flees because she cannot understand why people hate the raka so much and because she wanted to marry someone who cared about their plight. Racial discrimination among the luarin nobility affects not just the raka but Zaimid, a dark-skinned Carthaki. The lower-class raka in Honeypot make their opinions known through the only means available to them, rioting. Finally, Aly’s morality is darker than Pierce’s previous protagonists.

All in all, the current chronological end to the Tortall series showcases the improvement of Pierce’s feminism quite well. Alanna the First Adventure was feminist on one axis, simply that of gender. This is feminist on several axes. While future books delve into Tortall’s past, this sets it well on the way to advance into the future.

Image Courtesy of Scholastic

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