This is a collection of short stories, most of which take place in Tamora Pierce’s Tortallan Universe. Well, six do, and four take place in other fantasy settings, and there’s one nonfantasy story that was inspired by one of Pierce’s early jobs. I liked all of them, although one of them was a bit spoilery for me, as I haven’t read the books that it follows. (They’re sitting in my TBR pile right now, actually.)
“Student of Ostriches”
This story follows Kylaia, a young girl from the Southern lands who learns to fight by watching the animals around her, including the ostrich, the giraffe, the zebra, and the elephant. She learns her lessons well, if unconventionally. It shows that lessons can be learned in many different ways, but the end result will be worth it.
This story brings in a loose end from one of The Immortals quartet, Wolf-Speaker. Numair uses a Word of Power to turn his enemy into a tree, and the price is that somewhere across the world a tree is turned into a man in return. We meet that tree here, and learn about his struggles to his sudden change of species. He gets some help from Fadal, a kind stranger, and he learns what it means to be human.
“The Hidden Girl”
This is an offshoot of “Elder Brother,” and we see certain scenes from a different point of view, from that of a girl who was a bystander in the other story. The women in that culture are veiled, and are protected by the men, but also kept down by them. Teky can see both the benefit of the veils and the limitations of them. Her father roams from town to town, preaching from the “forbidden” book of their religion that the priests deliberately do not teach, to keep their flocks ignorant. Teky reads to him, especially in his failing health, and teaches the women both to read and the lessons her father teaches their men. They are constantly on the run from the priesthood, and as her father’s health continues to fail, Teky needs to make a choice. This shows how power can come from unexpected places.
This follows Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, books that follow The Protector of the Small quartet in the timeline. (I haven’t read them yet, so spoilers all around for me!) This is Nawat’s tale, the mate of Aly, and how he deals with the birth of his children. Being a crow who chooses his human form, he has some different ideas for the raising of young. He runs into some trouble with another crow flock, but he too has to make a difficult choice.
“The Dragon’s Tale”
This was one of my favorites! We see Skysong, or Kitten, from The Immortals quartet having her own adventure. Since it is from her point of view, we get to hear her voice and learn some of her frustrations. She makes a very interesting discovery and tries to help a woman without the aid of Daine and Numair. Her adventure gets more interesting the more she gets into it, and I would very much like to see what happens next!
This was also one of my favorites, because it features Darkings! Yay Darkings! Adria is a young girl who goes to school in the morning and helps in her father’s storerooms in the afternoons. Adria has an amazing head for numbers, but does not appear to get along with her new mathematics instructor. While Adria can see the answers almost immediately, the new teacher wants her to go through the steps. (This can be a struggle, as anyone who has had to teach math will understand.) The instructor does not understand just how talented Adria is, and reprimands her. Adria discovers a darking, Lost, who is indeed lost, and it helps her to come into herself. Adria, with the help of Lost, is able to fix some mistakes and to escape some bad situations.
“Time of Proving”
Arimu, a thirteen year old girl from the Wind People, discovers a hurt bull-man, Sunflower, halfway through her Year of Proving. Sunflower is an academic and poet from the Veiled City, and is woefully unprepared to survive out in the desert alone. The Wind People have learned to not give away anything for free, so Arimu demands payment for teaching Sunflower the lessons he needs to survive. Arimu knows she must follow the customs of her people, but she also knows that she should do what is right.
Tonya is a fourteen year old girl from a large family. She has magic, but doesn’t really know how to use it very well, as the village Wizard is a jealous man. On the day a dragon is sighted close to the village, a peddler comes to town in her colorful cart. Lindri appears to be about thirty and plain, but she can do things that astonish Tonya, things that Lindri calls plain magic. As the dragon comes closer, the Wizard claims that one of the ways to get rid of it is to feed it a young maiden. It is obvious that he sees an opportunity to rid himself of his perceived rival. Lindri calls him out on his nonsense, but is ignored. But the village learns that ignoring wisdom is not a good idea.
Ri makes an interesting discovery when she takes her flock of sheep out to graze one day. Mimic is a creature she has never encountered before, who seems to understand her, and who keeps still for healing. Her grandfather says that Mimic is dying, but Ri doesn’t give up in trying to heal him. Mimic repays her in full and beyond.
This is a contemporary story, and was my least favorite of the bunch. A teenager in New York City gets a track scholarship to a fancy school, Christopher Academy, and she’s excited to go, because her reputation is shot at her old school. Not for anything she did, but because her family worships the Goddess, and everyone thinks that weird. But a new start in a new school with new friends is what she needs, but some of her new “friends” turn out to be not so nice. Turns out being the weird kid isn’t so bad after all.
This is the one nonfantasy story in the anthology, and it is based on what Tamora Pierce experienced as a housemother in a group home for teenage girls. It is a story about how girls “test” their new housemothers with pranks and behaviors, as teens will do, to see if they can take it. How one housemother, X-ray, deals with the pranks and behaviors is awesome and inspirational. If X-ray is based on how Pierce dealt with those situations, then all of the props to her!