Also the book where it is 100% on the page confirmed that she and Lark are both lovers and happily non-monogamous, which was obvious before, but is nice to have confirmed anyhow, especially in a YA book.
We also actually get some depth on what it means that some of the Emelan characters are religious dedicates and what that means to them personally rather than it simply being an alternative schooling system, which was nice! So Rosethorn gets that, and a little more family backstory and, basically, ROSETHORN. She's the best. I'm happy to have read her book.
It's not the most focused Tamora Pierce book, I think because it starts out as one of the books where her primary characters go somewhere and shit's going to hell and they have to fight a war to fix it, but she was really trying hard NOT to make it white-saviour-y this time, so the arc is less focused. On the other hand, I was delighted that she clearly is thinking about these tropes and trying to avoid those criticisms this time. From where I'm standing she did a pretty good job, though I'd welcome dissent if people saw problematic things in it.
This is the book of that war Briar and Rosethorn and Evvy fought in fantasy!China and fantasy!Tibet (it's better world-building than that, but also, it's totally fantasy!China and fantasy!Tibet, even if it's well done) that was giving them PTSD in The Will of the Empress. So they go to these places and piss off the Emperor of Yanjing, and then have to escape him and get caught up in the fight to defend Gyongxe, and lots of things happen and Pierce is still very good at writing clear battle scenes, but it's the story of how the war happened to them, rather than the story of how they saved fantasy!Tibet. They really don't save fantasy!Tibet. They're not irrelevant to the fighting, but fantasy!Tibet saves itself. (I keep repeating this, because I'm so pleased by it, and I really wasn't sure where this book was going when I started it.)
The difficulty is, this makes the action and emotional arcs not line up as perfectly. The emotional arc is about who you are and what you do and how you live with things, but the action arc is very definitely about, y'know, the invasion, and who wins. But, at the end of the day, I was pretty pleased with getting a lot more Rosethorn and Evvy, and the battles are very good, they're just not the same kind of emotionally cathartic.
And Gyongxe is very cool. The bits about Evvy communing with mountains, and Rosethorn with the Living Circle treasures were very good. It's not the best Pierce book, but it's still excellent and highly recommended.
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