This was a solid collection of stories. I enjoyed them all, with one rather shocking exception which I am afraid that I will go on at length about in a bit. None of them became instant favorites, but I am glad I read them.
As is par for the course with Tamora Pierce, there is a preponderance of strong female characters, many of whom are of the old-school Alanna the Lioness kick-ass warrior lady variety. I enjoyed seeing a few old friends and just the general tone of most of the stories. Elder Brother and The Hidden Girl were especially intriguing--I'd like to see more of this part of the world.
And then there was Nawat.
I was really excited when I saw the title--the Daughter of the Lioness duology might be my favorite Tortall books, and I couldn't wait to see what would be done with these characters that I had grown to love so much.
I wish I had not read this story.
There is this moment in Rilla of Ingleside where
this little boy, deeply saddened by the fact that his older brother is away at war, drowns his kitten, whom he genuinely adores, in a pond in the hope that by giving up something he loves, God will let his brother come home. And everyone treats this as just a sad fact of life, that silly little fellow thinking that could work.
It hit me with such horror that when I think back on that book, that is almost all I remember. I have read worse things in terms of horror, perhaps, but this hit me right in the gut, hard, and still makes me sick to think about. I have never and will never re-read that book, and that scene is a large portion of the reason why.
Chunks of Nawat hit me the same way. It changed the ways I saw those characters, and not for the better. I don't think I will be re-reading this, and honestly I think I am going to pretend to myself I didn't read it in hopes of being able to continue to re-read the duology without having to think about any of the horrors apparently being carried around in the thoughts of some of these characters. The severity of the problems I had with the story are probably due to personal circumstances, but I defy anyone to believe that the concepts presented are fluffy, happy things that make you think better of the characters.
If you're looking to pick up Tamora Pierce for the first time, this is not the place to start. This is not just because it is darker in tone than much of the rest of her work, but also because the Tortall-related stories in here would majorly spoil the ending of at least two of her series, possibly three depending how carefully you read. Taken together, though, they are a pretty good example of Tamora Pierce's primary driving theme, which is that women can be awesome in pretty much any way they want.