Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce
This novel continues the story of Aly, the daughter of Alanna, the lady knight. Aly is a spy in a restless island nation about to be torn open by a revolution. She’s leading the efforts to depose a pair of cruel regents and put a new young queen on the throne, one who symbolizes the union of two ruling families and two races. The novel’s action covers her work toward building a spy network and uncovering information about the regents’ plans. One highlight is the perfect spy helpers: “darkings,” small creatures who act as microphones, radios, and cameras all at once. The love story that began in the last book, between Aly and Nawat, a crow who has become a man, is resolved after a time of separation, when Nawat returns and no longer seems quite so crow-like. Pierce doesn’t turn away from sex, from the deaths of important characters, or from asking big moral questions with the choices characters have to make.
Generally I think the books about Aly are stronger than the ones about Alanna. They’re longer, deeper, and more complex in terms of plot and character. The difference might have to do with Pierce’s improving skill as a writer and with changing expectations of the YA book market. I’m not even sure if YA as we now know it existed when the Alanna books were first written; they were probably categorized as children’s books, and it shows.