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The Plot: Remember Creepy Roger, Duke of Conté? Alanna can’t forget him. He was the first person she killed, and even though she did it to prevent civil war and the death of the king, queen and her (regrettably beloved) Prince Jonathan, Alanna still feels guilty for her part in his death. Imagine her surprise when she learns that Duke Roger has been brought back from the death–courtesy of Alanna’s twin brother, Thom. Everyone seems to trust that Roger’s magical Gift was left behind in the tomb, and that he no longer has any ambition to take over the throne–everyone except Alanna. But to help Jonathan fight a smiling, charming foe, she must find the legendary Dominion Jewel–a magical object that gives the bearer power over the land itself.

The Characters: Some new people are introduced in the final installment of The Song of the Lioness Quartet: Thayet, the beautiful princess of the war-torn country of Sarain, her personal guard, Buri, and Liam Ironarm, the Shang Dragon. I’m fond of Thayet and Buri is probably one of my top 10 favorites, simply because she’s so prickly, but I have never been a fan of Liam Ironarm. The Shang warriors are trained at a very early age–they’re masters of practically every weapon they lay their hands on and they’re master unarmed combatants. Liam is fierce and violent, but that’s not what annoys me. What annoys me is his relationship with Alanna. They quickly develop a sexual relationship, which frustrates me because every time I read this book all I can think is “George is waiting for you at home, and you’re cavorting around with this lame-ass who doesn’t love you half as well as George does.” So no, I don’t like Liam.

The Good: Creepy Roger, Duke of Conté steps up the creepy in this book–holy crap, does he ever. He amasses several devout followers, including Lady Delia (who spends half the book trying to ensnare Jonathan into marriage), Princess Josiane of the Copper Isles (who is best known for two things: being insane and killing a bunch of people with an axe during the final battle), and Sir Alex, one of Jonathan’s year-mates, Duke Roger’s former squire and an old friend of Alanna’s. Roger’s group of minions are sinister, but not as sinister as Roger himself.

The journey to The Roof of the World, where the Dominion Jewel is held by an ancient, elemental creature, is dramatic and action-filled. Alanna’s personal growth and her skills as a knight and a mage culminate in this single quest. It’s amazing to see how Alanna has grown from a scared 10 year-old with a problem controlling her temper to a self-assured women in her twenties with a slightly better hold on her temper.

The Bad: Most of what I don’t like about this book is Liam. In addition to his relationship with Alanna, I don’t like his character. He hates magic and thinks that, by virtue of the fact that Alanna has it, she’s a weaker fighter because she uses it as a crutch. All of this is rooted in his basic and primal fear of magic as a force he doesn’t understand, which makes him a well-rounded character, but a horrible match for Alanna. He also calls her “Kitten,” which (while adorable), belittles Alanna, because since she was knighted everyone else calls her Lioness–a tribute to the rearing lioness on her shield.

The Virdict: Good battles, good new characters, bad romance (until the very end!). Song of the Lioness isn’t my favorite Tamora Pierce series, but it’s an excellent introduction to the world she’s created.