Pierce, Tamora. Tortall and Other Lands (2011). 369 Pages. Random House. $18.99
I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard it was being written. Then, the day I got it, I tore through it. Way too much fun to read this particular anthology. It was made even more bittersweet by the fact that it had a teaser for Mastiff in the back.
For Pierce fans, there are a few old, familiar characters. You might remember Aly and Nawat (Trickster’s Choice & Trickster’s Queen) and Daine & Numair (Wild Magic, Wolf Speaker, etc.)*. There are cameos of characters who you might not remember at first, because they weren’t huge, but they were cool.
So, onto brief summaries and story-specific comments. I’ll try to keep them spoiler-free.
The volume opens with “Student of Ostriches,” which was really fun. It starts with Kylaia’s pregnant mother witnessing the “omen” of ostriches kicking a lion. It continues with small-tribal life; Kylaia is a herder who teaches herself to fight by imitating the animals she sees on the plains. When the time comes to defend her family’s honor, Kylaia is the only one capable of stepping up, and she does so before many villages and the Shang Falcon. I really enjoyed this one, because it managed to be new and special, but to still fit the universe.
Next was “Elder Brother” which directly relates to the scene in Wolf Speaker where Numair turns Tristan into a tree. As explained by Numair; all big magic has an opposite reaction elsewhere. Now we get the chance to find out about the man-who-was-a-tree; Elder Brother. He is across the world, in a land far from Tortall, where he is lost and confused. When Qiom is finally ready to give up, he is approached by Fadal, who promises to help him learn to be a man in ways that Numair cannot. The story progresses in an inevitable, but not wholly expected way. I really enjoyed getting to see the direct results of Numair’s magic.
“The Hidden Girl” was set in the same country, from a completely different perspective In a world where women are hidden behind veils, and are not permitted to read, wandering ministers teach the second-gospel; the Book of Distaff to the faithful. Teky is faced with a difficult decision which will alter her life, one she does not feel prepared to make. It is an excellent companion to “Elder Brother” and should be read after the other story.
I had mixed feelings about “Nawat” because of how he came across as a character. I understand that he’s a crow, but he spends so much time being a crow and not human, that it’s hard to believe that he’s already spent several years as a man. I appreciate the dilemma he has, and I feel like it’s interesting, but I just didn’t like him or sympathize with him– and he was such a cool character in the series (Trickster’s Choice/Queen)
By contrast, I really enjoyed “The Dragon’s Tale,”though I’m not exactly sure where in the timeline it fits. Numair, Daine, and Kitten are coming along on Kaddar and Kalasin’s royal progress through Carthak, but Kitten can’t help being hurt that everyone seems to fear her. We already know that she is curious and friendly, so people’s reservation around her really stings. But things begin to change for our teenaged dragon when she finds a new project.
In “Lost,” we meet a darking again, this time in Tusaine, where a young math prodigy needs more help than she knows. Things are not all bad for Adria, and I feel like her story was especially good because it balanced character development with plot, so that it’s a plot-driven story about personal growth. Also, Darkings are nifty.
Then there was “Time of Proving” which was another which I was not particularly invested in. Arimu is from a culture where nothing can be free, and everything must be traded for, but when Sunflower needs her help, she has to re-evaluate her future. It’s not particularly Tortallan, and could have been anywhere. I like stories with concrete settings, the ones that go “It’s here” on a map.
The next story, “Plain Magic” was not particularly Tortall-based either. It felt more at-home in the Circle universe. That said, it was still a good story, and I did enjoy it. There are dragons, after all, and it’s hard to go wrong with dragons.
“Mimic” was not quite what I expected. Ri lives in a small village in the mountains, where people have made a pact with birds. One day, Ri saves a small but ugly bird-like creature, and it changes her life. I really enjoyed this story, and appreciated that it wasn’t as predictable as I’d worried it would be.
“Huntress” is not from Tortall. It is set in New York, where a girl from a new-agey Goddess-worshiping family learns that somethings aren’t worth the cost. It’s a magical-realism story, and I would have been fine if it wasn’t included, but I didn’t hate it.
The last story was “Testing” which was a semi-auto-biographical account of girls in a house for troubled teens and their house-mothers. I was mildly amused while reading it, but never really connected, and would not have felt like I was missing something if it had not been included.
This was a fun anthology which should please most Tamora Pierce fans. It’s got a wide spectrum of tales; from old characters explored to entirely new situations, there’s a lot going on in this book. It earns a 5/5.
* I realize now that I never did finish reviewing The Immortals, I’ll have to get back on that.