Alianneis a girl of Tortall, the daughter of the famous Alanna the Lioness, first female Knight of Tortall. But Aly is no fighter. In fact, she follows more in her father's footsteps, being drawn to the life of a spy. But neither her mother nor her father want Aly to take up her father's business and become a spy, which is difficult, dangerous work. When Aly takes a sail along the coast before her mother comes home for the summer and before she and her life can become her mother's new project to tackle, she runs afoul of pirates and is kidnapped, bound for slavery in the Copper Isles.
There, Aly, who disguises her true identity so as not to become a political prisoner, is bought by a family known as the Balitangs to be a lowly kitchen slave. When they are exiled by the ruling family, the Rittevongs, Aly is approached by the deposed former God of the Copper Isles, Kyprioth, to keep the family safe, especially the two oldest daughters of the house, Saraiyu and Dovasary, with whom he planned on restoring the true ruling House of the Isles, and himself to the chief God of the Isles.
Both Saraiyu and Dovasary are half Raka, the islanders native to the Copper Isles, and half Luarin, or light-skinned invaders who conquered the islands. More importantly, both sides of their family have links to the ruling castes. Their Raka mother was the last remaining princess in line for the throne, and their Luarin father is linked to the Rittevons through his own bloodlines. Since their mother has died, they are being raised by their Luarin stepmother, Duchess Winnamine Balitang, who has two children of her own, Saraiyu and Dovasary's half-sister Petranne and their half-brother Elsren.
Aly was asked by Kyprioth to keep the family safe for a year, and then he would let her return to her own home and family in Tortall. Aly did so, but the Trickster managed to trick her. During that year, she became very attached to her owner/employers and wished to see the job through to putting one of the sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles. In that time, however, the girls' father, Lord Mequen, was assassinated, and Aly managed to keep the rest of the family alive, reaching out to the Raka slaves and freemen on the island that held the Balitang family estates, Lombyn Isle. In addition, the God Kyprioth sends her his servants- crows, who help Aly spy and teach her their "Language". One of the crows, Nawat, takes on human form, and falls in love with Aly, courting her in his own way- by offering her bugs to eat. Aly politely refuses the bugs, however.
Now, Aly and the Balitangs, forgiven their trespasses by the new King of the Isles, the son of former King Oron, his first son, Hazarin, have returned to the city of Rajmuat. But Hazarun, too, is dead, of apoplexy, and his brother, the three year old Dunevon, is now King. His elder sister, Imajane, is regent, along with her husband, Prince Rubinyan.
Aly and the Balitangs have returned with many free Raka to act as their servants, and Aly is their leader, for all of them are spies and as well, there are mages among them. Ochobu, one of the mages, is head of a group of mages called the Chain, who are dedicated to overthrowing the Luarin and seeing a Raka Queen once again. Aly's chief opponent is a noble named Topabaw, who runs the Spies of the Copper Isles. But thanks to a gift from her "Aunt", Daine, a wildmage, Aly is given some creatures called "Darkings" that look like little pools of shadow, but which happen to be sentient.
Aly asks them if they will aid the rebellion, and they think it will be great "fun" and agree to help. She wears one as a necklace, which allows her to keep in touch with all of them. Through the Darklings, and the rest of her spies, she wages psychological warfare on Topabaw, putting him on the outs with the Regents, which lead to him eventually being permanently removed from his post, and his head being permanently removed from his neck. Left behind to replace him is Sevmire Ambau, a much less experienced spymaster, who Aly can pretty much walk all over.
Everyone wants the eldest Balitang daughter, Saraiyu, on the throne, but as Imajane and Rubinyan move to consolidate their own power by killing the child-King on his birthday by sending a storm to sink the ship he was given for his birthday, along with all the noble sons who accompanied him- Elsren included, they also try to marry her off to keep her out of the running for the throne. Aly, who is mired in all her spy operations, doesn't notice that Sarayiu has fallen in love with a young Carthaki healer, Zaimid Hetnim, until the two of them run off and elope together, aided by the Carthaki's own goddess, the Graveyard Hag. The two lovers make it to Carthak, leaving the rebellion seemingly in ruins.
Or is it? Now that their hopes of Saraiyu are demolished, the rebellion realizes that Dovasary, or Dove, is a cool and level-headed child and would make an even better candidate for the Queen of the Isles than her sister would. And Dove is already acting as part of the rebellion. But it's not only the Raka who want the Rittevongs off the throne of the Copper Isles- many of the Luarin nobles feel that the Rittevongs have become entirely too comfortable, and too overreaching of their powers on the throne, and seek to replace them. With what, they haven't decided, but Duchess Winnamine's sister, Nuritin, is one of the leaders of the Luarin conspirators, and even they agree that someone like Dove would be hundreds of times better for the Copper Isles than another Rittevong monarch, so they throw in with the Rebellion.
While all this is happening, Aly has been separated from Nawat, who has been fighting soldiers on the other islands. When he finally returns, he has grown into his feelings and role as a human man and Aly is stunned by the change in him. They quickly become lovers, but Nawat gifts her with a contraception charm so that they can share a bed without having to worry about pregnancy.
As the anti-Rittevong sentiment spreads throughout Rajmuat, Aly quickly foments division between Imajane and Rubinyan, making Imajane think that her husband is having an affair with another lady of the court. At this point, the two have lost the support of mostly everyone, even Taybur Sibigat, the former bodyguard of Dunevon- who was completely destroyed by the death of the child-King, especially when it was made clear to him that they were responsible for killing his monarch. He supports Aly and her group utterly, and soon it is time for the Rebels to fight if they want to regain the Copper Isles and see Queen Dovasary put on the throne.
But even if the rebels are able to overcome the last remaining loyal servants of the Rittevon and place Dovasary on the throne, will Aly be able to leave the Isles she fought so hard for? And what will her famous mother and father think of the life she has managed to carve out for herself in the Isles, and the mate she has chosen in Nawat? Will they be able to live with the knowledge that Aly has chosen exactly the kind of life they didn't want for her? And how will Aly's fellow rebels feel if and when she confesses her true parentage to them?
This is one of those books I really enjoyed. Aly is very much unlike Tamora Pierce's usual heroines, who are almost always strong fighters, but she does possess a strong personality and has a need to show people how good she is and can be at her chosen profession. Even though she wants to be with her family, she finds it enjoyable to be a spy (and spymaster) and do the job she loves and wants to do. In the first book, she was rather restrained about her enjoyment of doing that job, simply because she knew it would be over soon. But here, Aly knows she won't be leaving the Copper Isles until she is done, and she simply buckles down to the work and does it. It's no longer something she enjoys (although she does enjoy it), it's simply what she is, and she simply doesn't spend time thinking about doing it- she does it.
Her romance with Nawat is like that, too. In the first book, Trickster's Choice, she spends time being sort of amazed that this man who she likes is really a crow, and not human. But in this book, when he returns, she never really thinks of that, only that she loves him and enjoys being with him. It's as if the Aly she was before has been distilled down to her essence, to what she truly is, and she doesn't spend time thinking about the things she wants to do, she just has gotten to the point where the thinking, wishing, dreaming and hoping is no longer necessary- it's just a distraction, so she doesn't spend time on it any more.
This is an excellent book, and a wonderful ending to this series/duology. It brought Aly's story neatly to an end, and left her in a much better position than she started with, with a husband, a child on the way, and with the people she loves. There was also a sting in the tail of her relationship with her father that was very welcome, and her shock over the reaction of Dovasary to learning of Aly's parentage was wonderful. A Triumph. Highly recommended.