We have very few of The Great female fantasy authors left. Most recently we lost both Anne McCaffrey and Dame DWJ. Years ago, we lost Madeleine L'Engle and Andre Norton, not to mention Marion Zimmer Bradley. Ursula K. LeGuin is still writing, but at eighty-three, she is one of the last and precious few of her formidable cadre of writers. Thank goodness we still have Tamora Pierce, going strong.
As I'm eagerly awaiting a newly released Pierce book this autumn, I thought I'd have a Tamora Pierce re-read. It's been fun...but, I also realized I'd missed some the first time around! It's a good thing I looked! Three Pierce books came out during the time I was in Scotland, and while they get there eventually, it was hard to find them when they first came out, and with one thing and another, I lost track. So, I was happy to find this collection of Tales, and can officially review it as a Wicked Cool Overlooked Book.
Reader Gut Reaction: I like a good anthology, and an anthology all written by the same author is super. Mostly written in the same world - well, those are my favorite of all, perhaps. Tamora Pierce's strength is in characterization and setting, and while I didn't expect her to necessarily be a deft short story writer, I'm delighted to note that she is that, too. Of course, all of her shorts I think could be turned into full length novels, or come from a world where the novel has already been written, so maybe it's easier for her to stop writing when it's time. Either way, this is a really full and exciting collection I could savor over and over again, because of the confident handling of the emotional scope of the young characters, and her acute understanding of the older ones.
Concerning Character: Two stories stand out in this collection for me. “Huntress” is set in modern day New York City, and it deals with runners - which I know will be attractive to CitySmartGirl and others who were into that scene in high school. A first-year runner gains a coveted group of friends by showing up the seniors with more age and less drive to go. Suddenly she's one of the charismatic and handsome Felix's "lionesses" - one of the best and brightest - if she can take the initiation. When it turns out she doesn't want what all being a Lioness means, she's left defenseless - or is she?
“Testing,” is another quirky story - it's not fantasy at all, at least, not in any sense that's expected. X-Ray, however, is the type of housemother who can see right through you. Her girls - try though they might - can't shake her, break her, or get her to go away. Maybe she's a keeper, then? Pierce based this on her own experiences working in group homes, and I found this one to be especially endearing - she gets into the heads of some of her charges with amusing accuracy.
I loved the Shang Warriors from the Alanna books, and was delighted to meet one again in “Student of Ostriches.” You've gotta love a young girl who not only takes to a boring job she's stuck with, but does her best to become her very best at it. She see her family and friends as people who could use her help, be helpful, and make a difference. “Hidden Girl” is a story I wish a lot of people could read... It's about a girl who wears a veil - and is OKAY WITH IT. Rather than take the Western assumption that a woman's individuality and beauty is considered a problem when her culture embraces women in veils, it shows the flipside. VERY cool, indeed. Probably my second favorite story is “Nawat” - the story of the crow-man we meet in Pierce's TRICKSTER'S QUEEN. I always wondered, after they married, and lived-happily-ever-after how that would work. Crows are ... loud, harrying, chaotic, and rude. Also too smart, and fond of sparkly things for their own good. What is normal in a bird would be DEEPLY annoying in a human being, and Ally didn't seem insane... This story is about their children. Crows are faithful parents, but they're definitely not human. Humanity, it turns out, is a choice. My very favorite story in this collection is “Lost,” and not only because it has a brilliant female mathematician or two, and Darklings. Like Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce is very good at taking the side of the wronged child, and making sure they can leave a bad situation. Sometimes the comeuppance of those involved is immediate, sometimes it takes time, but in the realm of Tortall, even if your particular wrong isn't righted, if you survive, you pay it forward. There's a fierce, good feeling, in reading stories like those.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Diana Wynne Jones, Mercedes Lackey's THE FIVE HUNDRED KINGDOMS series, as well as the fairy-retelling, THE BLACK SWAN; Gail Carson Levine's EVER, ELLA ENCHANTED, etc.; and THE SQUIRE, THE KNIGHT & HIS LADY, by Gerald Morris. None of these are anthologies, but these are general recommendations for fantasy books that are like hers.
Cover Chatter: I like. Simple, classic, clean; no character on the cover, just the rampant lioness shown on the flags of Tortall. It's awesome, and why wouldn't it be, since it is the standard of Alanna, the Lionness we all knew and loved from the long-ago 1983 kick-off to the whole thing? It works as it should, showcases Tortall, and reminds the reader where it all started.
Etc. Asides: While this book is based in Tortall, the new Pierce book is set in Emelan, along the Circle Sea. So, while this doesn't help prep me for the new book, reading MELTING STONES will - but that's another review...
I picked up my copy of this book from the library. You can find TORTALL AND OTHER LANDS: A COLLECTION OF TALES by Tamora Pierce online, or at an independent bookstore near you!