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The Plot: Aly fulfilled Kyprioth’s wager–she kept the Balitang children (Sarai, Dove and their younger half-siblings) alive until the end of the summer. Instead of returning home scot-free, Aly decides to stay in the Copper Isles and work with the raka conspiracy. The raka have a prophesy that fortells the rise of a twice-royal queen: a girl who is descended from both the luarin and raka royal lines. The only two eligible girls in the country are Sarai and Dove Balitang–their luarin father is cousin to the royal family and their (deceased) raka mother was descended from the old raka queens.

The conspiracy plans to groom Sarai (now seventeen) to be queen, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Aly has to build a network of spies, corral the high-spirited Sarai (who always seems to find an inappropriate man to sneak into the shadows with), unite luarin and raka conspirators despite long-standing, often violent racial tensions, and work through her new, confusing relationship with Nawat, the crow-turned-man.

The Good: So let’s talk about Nawat and how amazing he is. As a former crow, he approaches his relationship with Aly in a very crow-like way. He tries to feed her bugs and he “preens” her short hair. He is, in short, absolutely hilarious. His character arc, as he becomes less and less like a crow and more and more like a man, is touching and sweet. I also love Aly’s arc. She goes from being a singular spy muddling around among untrusting people to being a little spy general training, placing and gleaning information from her spy network–on par with what George does for Jonathan in Tortall. She never loses her personal voice (and, possibly, becomes even more snarky and hilarious).

Dove starts the series as a mature, thoughtful 13 year old. She ends as an even more mature, even more thoughtful, 14 year old. In the true tradition of Tortallian (or in this case, Islander) sheroes, Dove grows into her destiny in a way Sarai just… cannot. I don’t want to say anything more for fear of spoilers, but trust me: it’s excellent.

The Bad: I… can’t think of anything bad about this book. Except! Except that there’s not as much romance as I wanted. This isn’t a very fair “bad” because if I had my way there’d be romance on like every other page and no sad ten chapter hiatuses where one character has to go find himself before he can return and make sweet, sweet love to his spy girl. So there’s that.

The Verdict: An amazing conclusion to a sharp, concise duet of books. Like I said in a previous review: the last two books of Protector of the Small and the Trickster series are part of what I think of as Tamora Pierces golden age–the run of books where she can literally do no wrong.

Will Tamora’s golden age continue with her next series, The Provost’s Dog? Only one way to find out–tune in next week for Terrier, Provost’s Dog #1, where we travel back in time (200 years before the events of Alanna!) and read about Beka Cooper, George Cooper’s great-great-great-grandmother (give or take a couple “greats”).