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Tortall: A Spy's Guide

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The must-have guide for any fan of #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy author TAMORA PIERCE! Enter the world of Tortall in this full-color, behind-the-scenes collectible guide, brought to you by the author who Sarah J. Maas says "shaped [her] not only as a young writer but also as a young woman" and whom Leigh Bardugo calls "the real lioness."

The secrets of Tortall are revealed. . . .

As Tortall's spymaster, George Cooper has sensitive documents from all corners of the realm. When Alanna sends him a surprising letter, he cleans out his office and discovers letters from when King Jonathan and Queen Thayet first ascended the throne, notes on creating the Shadow Service of spies, threat-level profiles on favorite characters, Daine's notes on immortals, as well as family papers, such as Aly's first report as a young spy and Neal's lessons with the Lioness. This rich guide also includes the first official timeline of Tortallan events from when...


First published October 31, 2017

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About the author

Tamora Pierce

106 books83.5k followers
Hey, folks! I just discovered that apparently I have given some very popular books single-star ratings--except I haven't. How do I know I haven't? Because I haven't read those books at all. So before you go getting all hacked off at me for trashing your favorites, know that I've written GoodReads to find out what's going on.

I return to my regularly scheduled profile:
Though I would love to join groups, I'm going to turn them all down. I just don't have the time to take part, so please don't be offended if I don't join your group or accept an invitation. I'm not snooty--I'm just up to my eyeballs in work and appearances!

Also, don't be alarmed by the number of books I've read. When I get bored, I go through the different lists and rediscover books I've read in the past. It's a very evil way to use up time when I should be doing other things. Obviously, I've read a lot of books in 54 years!

I was born in South Connellsville, PA. My mother wanted to name me "Tamara" but the nurse who filled out my birth certificate misspelled it as "Tamora". When I was 8 my family moved to California, where we lived for 6 years on both sides of the San Francisco peninsula.

I started writing stories in 6th grade. My interest in fantasy and science fiction began when I was introduced to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien and so I started to write the kind of books that I was reading. After my parents divorced, my mother took my sisters and me back to Pennsylvania in 1969. There I went to Albert Gallatin Senior High for 2 years and Uniontown Area Senior High School for my senior year.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I wrote the book that became The Song of the Lioness fantasy quartet. I sold some articles and 2 short stories and wrote reviews for a martial arts movie magazine. At last the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure was published by Atheneum Books in 1983.

Tim Liebe, who became my Spouse-Creature, and I lived in New York City with assorted cats and two parakeets from 1982 - 2006. In 2006 we moved to Syracuse, New York, where we live now with assorted cats, a number of squirrels, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and woodchucks visiting our very small yard. As of 2011, I have 27 novels in print, one short story collection, one comic book arc ("White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion") co-written with Tim, and a short story anthology co-editing credit. There's more to come, including a companion book to the Tortall `verse. So stay tuned!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 377 reviews
Profile Image for Gillian.
457 reviews1,088 followers
Want to read
January 31, 2017

The only author more seminal to my youth than Tamora Pierce is JK Rowling. My inner twelve-year-old (who is not that different from my outer twenty-five-year-old) is sobbing with excitement. SQUEEEE
Profile Image for Kayleigh.
318 reviews16 followers
Want to read
June 11, 2017
I'm still in shock that Tamora is actually going to publish another book in my lifetime....I won't believe this book exists until I have it in my hands.

Still waiting for that damn Numair book

January 27, 2020
Another fun compendium intro to the worlds of Tamora Pierce.
A warrior walks so everyone knows she is there.
No one knows the spy is there.
A warrior seems to do everything.
A spy seems to do nothing.
A warrior fights whenever she can.
A spy fights only as a last resort.
A warrior wins fame.
A spy who wins fame is dead. (c)
Owls—Sometimes we need help with things like magic, special knowledge, or even research that’s not in libraries or temple records. That’s when we call the Owls—those persons who aren’t agents but are kin to the Service and happy to lend a hand, or a paw, or a claw. Many times Owls are mages like Master Numair Salmalín or Master Lindhall Reed, or the Wildmage Veralidaine Salmalín, since mages often have talents like book learning or experience the rest of us don’t. But Owls can also be Traveling Merchants, Players, even immortals or animals—especially Gifted ones! (c)
One of the secrets of being a master cook is to make those you serve believe that all you do is done deliberately, with great struggle and midnight journeys in search of the correct ingredients. If they don’t know how you achieve your meals, they will come to see you as being someone close to a mage. If your food is to their taste as well, you will never want for a place to work. So my father taught me and so I teach my own cooks. They may work out their own mysteries. No law is written that I must hand over all of my secrets. (c)
Dragon—Arrogant as anything. They’re the scholars of the Divine Realms. ...
They’re academics and politicians in one scaly bundle, and they don’t like change. ...
They’re “mages of the air,” born with a natural talent for magic. ...
Their magic lets them see things that mortals don’t sense at all, even the presence of gods and god-born children. Nothing hides from a dragon. An adult dragon, it’s said, is powerful enough to do battle with a god. (c)
There’s no telling a lie around a griffin. Griffin leather used to be popular for shields, because whatever makes it impossible to lie to a living griffin carries over to the hide. Griffin feathers are worth their weight in gold. Arrows fletched with them are mage-killers and never miss, flying true even through illusions. Coverings for the eyes and ears made out of griffin feathers dispel illusion magics. Numair learned about that from Lady Kel. Griffins know that humans value their feathers, and they distrust humans in part because of the way we use them for their truth-telling properties. Stealing their young, killing them for their hides, all of that. Numair said there used to be spells to trap baby griffins in “undeath.” Folk would catch them, wait for them to fledge, and then use magic to sink them partway into shields. Not living. Not dead. No way to bring them back. The only people who die by a griffin’s paws usually deserve it. (c)
Profile Image for Sakina (aforestofbooks).
393 reviews125 followers
October 31, 2017
Amazing. Everything I wanted and more. The Neal and Alan parts killed me. I’m still not over Alanna’s letter to George. Will never be over that. Time to write fanfic.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,158 reviews119 followers
December 11, 2017
Well. This is part story, part exhaustingly boring information manual. The story elements are few and far between, but they're pretty great. I also like the reveal that and I like that and I like that Kalasin is going to become the Empress of Carthak. I think all that is good worldbuilding.

I'd like an actual, reasonable explanation for George spying on Jonathan, though I do like this line from his spy's report:
...it is very difficult to eavesdrop on His Majesty. He has an ugly tendency to raise spells that alert him to any spies.
I laughed.

More on George: um, pal, maybe don't stroll around the palace exacting revenge in just a mask which allows people who know you to recognize you by your eyes, who then publicly thank you by naming a soup after you. (That was a really stupid part of this book.)

(Another really stupid part of this book is that part of the timeline that says that Aly gives birth to triplets. I get it, she doesn't do anything by halves. Her ending up spying on her own country is already shaky enough; stop making her even more over-the-top.)

Let's end with something positive, though, shall we? Alan's letter to Lord Imrah is absolutely delightful. And so is Imrah's return letter to George. Never mind what I said earlier: this is the real highlight of this book. Can't say it makes the entire thing worth publication - but it's really great.
Profile Image for Kim Clifton.
378 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2018
Well, the formatting here is to compensate for what the book lacks in content. I could care less about calligraphy fonts and ink-stained pages when I expected to learn more about my favorite characters. Unfortunately, the backstory is about Tortall as a country- its customs, history, creatures- essentially the information one would acquire naturally while reading Pierce's other books. So unlike her other collection of short stories, this is essentially plotless and adds little to the established world of Tortall.

Maybe it's my own fault for having never read a companion guide before. But what frustrates me so much is that Pierce is clearly capable of more than the straight exposition that dominates this book, precisely because certain sections are actually interesting. For example, the series of back-and-forth letters to form a narrative or notes with snarky annotations by a character are insightful and humorous. I also appreciate that Pierce sneaks in her trademark social awareness, especially when explaining spying technique and talking about the assumptions society makes about lower classes. The book even ends with a poster that suggests Tortall is experiencing its own rise in xenophobia, remarkably similar to the MAGA campaign. I would have loved to see Pierce deal with that, but nope, it's just a standalone. What editor let her get away with including the tedious journal of a chef, but not this story?!

I'm hoping this book is lacking because its author was busy on another, richer text. If not, there's really no excuse this made it to publication.
Profile Image for Dawn.
46 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2018

This is the perfect companion to all of the Tortall books. I find myself ready to reread them all -- right now!
Profile Image for Sam Maggs.
Author 119 books948 followers
October 2, 2017
So much exciting new canon for a hard-core Tortall fangirl.
Profile Image for Jo Oehrlein.
6,327 reviews9 followers
November 13, 2021
Cool to read straight through, but I bet it will be looked at more for reference than a complete re-read in the future.
November 3, 2017
Sooooooooooo gooooooooooood. I can't even express to you all how excited I was when this showed up on my door step yesterday. Tamora Pierce and all of her books set it Tortall are THE reason why I got into YA. I devoured each and every book and I still treasure them today. I mean, I think you can accept that a set of characters have had an impact on you when you are going through something scary or hard and the first think that pops into your mind are "Alanna became a lady knight without anyone knowing she was a girl" or "Kel became a lady knight WITH people knowing she was a girl...if they can do that you can do anything, Arielle." I know that when I give birth in April I will be thinking about them and their strength, who cares if they're fictional.

I'm not even kidding. Or if it's something little I think about how Alanna passed out when getting her ears pierced and calm down. I swear I wouldn't be the person I am today without having read about these strong and amazing heroines AND with getting all these extra little tidbits..I died. You don't even know how many times my sister and I tried making our OWN timeline and then here this is with an OFFICIAL ONE??!?!?! I think I might have legit screamed. The ONLY thing I was praying that would be in there was mention of Kel and Dom getting together lololol. I'll just have to keep on reading fanfic I suppose...hopefully this coming out means that there is an influx in new stories, FINGERS CROSSED.

Numair series....YOU'RE NEXT.
Profile Image for Lisa Wolf.
1,654 reviews208 followers
May 8, 2019
A nice-to-have for fans of Tamora Pierce's world of Tortall. This is a collection of odds and ends, including character journal entries, guidebooks for spies, timelines, and more. It's not a novel, just a fun companion book for Pierce's fabulous fantasy world.
Profile Image for Nancy.
581 reviews34 followers
November 9, 2017

I'm never going to have enough in the Tortall world, but I love how much more I know now.
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 99 books1,952 followers
December 27, 2021
Worth it for the snarky history of Tortall written by George and Alanna's son Alan.
44 reviews14 followers
October 31, 2017
Re: Tortall A Spy's Guide.



Spoilers, obviously!




You have been warned!




Tamora Pierce mentioned that she has had the setting of Tortall in her mind since 1976, and it shows. The book is a patchwork of interesting information, humor, familiar faces, and the little tidbits of information we have come to appreciate. Isn't she (and she had help from Timothy Liebe and a couple others)
amazing? Tortall and its neighbors feel as rich as the real world. I think it was in Lioness Rampant that it was mentioned that Tortall, Galla, Maren, and Tusaine were all cut from the same cloth, and it wasn't until I think Beka's books that we learned they were once all part of the same Empire which split as it fell. That's just one tiny aspect of the richness I've found in these books. Seriously, this is the most delightful companion novel to a beloved series I have ever read.

As the book is framed as being gleaned from papers and letters found in George's storage area next to his office, it makes sense that the Coopers are quite the focus of it. Thom was given a role, and Alan had a clever little letter to Lord Imrah (who really needs to be a major part of a book, hopefully the third Numair novel).

My only "quibble" -- and it's really not a real quibble, just proof of my obsession -- is that Alanna and George were expecting a surprise late in life baby, but the name of the baby was never revealed. It's fine... it's fine. I'm fine. *brave tears*

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wished Tortall were a real place.
Profile Image for Kara.
Author 22 books78 followers
March 30, 2018

This is for die-hard Tortall fans only - you won't understand any references if you haven't read all the books set in Pierce's Tortall universe.

That said - this is an AWESOME addition to that universe, answering a few questions not addressed in the books that take place in between events and filling in TONS of character details.

There isn't a plot, persay, it is broken up in sections that are about different subjects, but we still learn a lot more about Pierce's world.

And, as always, I heart George, even moreso here to see how the once devil-may-care king-thief balances fatherhood and a (semi)legit career.

Profile Image for Iris.
556 reviews256 followers
August 31, 2020
I really don't know how to review this. Quite honestly this was completely unnecessary. But I loved it. Tamora Pierce was one of my favourite authors growing up, and this book made me SO NOSTALGIC. Also it was good. It may have been unnecessary, but it was also very good.

This wasn't a story or anything, just a collection of files and letters and the like. And honestly that really worked with Tamora Pierce's strengths. Her writing is great. Her characters are great. But while her plots themselves are actually pretty good, the pacing is... not.

And so this worked really well. Because does a collection of files require pacing? No. But it does require good writing to be enjoyable, and somehow she managed to make the characters shine in this.

Literally, the characters were so strong. I mean, would this work as an introduction to them? Of course not. But that's not what it's meant as. It's meant for the readers who already know and love them, and as that, it's perfect.

This was just so enjoyable! There were so many parts that made me laugh of loud, or put a huge nostalgic grin on my face, and I am so pleased I finally read this! Also we finally got to see some of Neal's infamous poetry, and it was amazing 😂😂😂

Also I appreciated the timeline. It was very, very helpful. Because seriously, her pacing is awful and I had no clue when anything was happening in the books.

If you're a fan of Tamora Pierce's other Tortall works, I cannot recommend this more! So much fun, and so enjoyable!

***Initial reaction, August 31, 2018***

Profile Image for Lainy122.
660 reviews28 followers
February 14, 2018
5 stars! 10 fingers! 12 toes! I loved all the extra stuff, I loved the background info, I LOVED Neal's terrible poetry on the back of his notes, I loved little baby Alan trying to sneak one over his super spy dad, and all the bits and bobs that went into other various character backstories.

I definitely spent way longer than was probably warranted pouring over the timeline at the end. So goooood!

Probably not a riveting read for those new to the Tortall universe, but an absolute must for lovers of any and all of the series!
Profile Image for Elizabeth Morgan.
195 reviews14 followers
November 4, 2017
A behind-the-scenes look at personal and official documents of the Cooper family and the related Shadow Service. Obviously, full of spoilers from the rest of the Tortall series, and clearly for diehard fans.
Profile Image for Alli.
352 reviews26 followers
October 31, 2017
It should not be a shock to anyone who knows me that Tamora Pierce is my favorite author, and has been for over 21 years. I started reading her books just after Wild Magic was published, and every single book that is out (excepting this one, because it is only the first day) I have in multiple copies. I've read through most of her books so many times that there is at least one completely worn through copy of every book in my collection. Different books got me through different times of my life - Wild Magic through my turbulent, conflicted high school years, Squire through my years of bullying, misery, and depression in college and in the Navy, Sandry's Book when I was especially lonely living in Japan.

So, anyway, I love Tamora Pierce's books, her writing style, and above all... her world building. She is one of two writers that I look to as exemplars of the power of world building in writing. The other is J.R.R. Tolkein. This book, to me, is an example of that world building. Her book worlds, whether Tortall or Emelan, feel so real, that you the reader just know that there is more going on that we don't see, and nothing about this book feels forced, like she was just trying to fill pages. Even the writing style of it, as a collection of works to be used in universe , just works so well. I've read every book so many times that I know the timelines of Tortall especially very well, and the forays into different events, and different perspectives on well known events, feels so organic.

I am planning to read this again this evening, but I had to sit down and write out my thoughts on it, which really just boil down to... I love it. I've been waiting for a new book by her for so long, and now we get two within six months. I am just so happy to read this, and return to my favorite author's world again. It feels like going home.
Profile Image for Jen Desmarais.
Author 4 books22 followers
November 3, 2017
Riveting and exciting to learn about some of the background work that was going on, and told in a fun and interesting way. Definitely happy to add this to my shelf!
Profile Image for Cee.
2,513 reviews111 followers
February 14, 2018
This is definitely a book only for people who have read the four main series set in Tortall (unfortunately nothing from Beka's days are mentioned). There will be spoils-- HUGE spoilers if you read this before any of those.

As a lover of the Tortall world, this was like chatting with an old friend. There are correspondences between characters which are fun or loving, or shed light on other circumstances. My love for Alanna and George grew even more, although I truly still did wish for more about George!! The Whisper Man!! I just love his character....

There is also a timeline at the back. YAY! and a Tortall history which is pretty cool to read.
There is a glossary of Immortals and side characters or other main characters who are now part of the spy world. Finding out what other characters are up to was heartwarming --glad Coram is still alright.

What I found a bit boring, were the instruction manuals, court etiquette, and spy hierarchy. Mostly, I think this is because I was almost nodding off and wanted a story, because the information is still fascinating. Again though, it is straight-up information.

This book is kind of like non-fiction in the Tortall world, if that makes sense. Super interesting, buuuttt can be dull if you aren't into it.

I'm on the fence about actually buying this book, I might if only because having this information later when reading through the series' again will be handy. Also, Alanna's letter to George in the beginning!! MY HEART!

And... it somewhat feels like she is setting up for another series, this time with Scanra as the antagonist country so..... maybe it is just me overthinking things!!!

Do I recommend this? If you've read the series, YES, if not, then go read all of the Tortall books and then read this ^_^
Profile Image for Marilag.
Author 9 books28 followers
May 12, 2018
Initial Thoughts: There's so much information packed into this book that I definitely foresee myself going back to it over and over again just to look something up. Much of the writing differs in every perspective, and while a few passages could have potentially gotten dry, I read everything from page one to the very end. Love it!
Profile Image for Ashley Will.
316 reviews7 followers
May 18, 2021
Fun read to get to know characters and history of this universe better. It was especially neat seeing illustrations for people and creatures.
Profile Image for Laurine.
19 reviews4 followers
November 7, 2017
I have to say I am honest-to-gods crushed at how little I was able to enjoy this book. I've loved Tamora Pierce since I first picked up "Alanna: The First Adventure" and own all 18 of her Tortall Universe books, some second copies after first ones fell apart from love. In buying "A Spy's Guide" I hoped for updates about Aly, maybe some short stories about characters we know and love, but definitely more about Aly, her kids, and the state of the Isles, since she IS George's daughter and a spymaster now in her own right.

What I got was something different. *SPOILERS AHEAD*

"Tortall: A Spy's Guide" lives up to its name. I would say a good 2/3 to 3/4 is devoted to Tortall's spy network, how it works, what the hierarchy is, and how Aly became involved in it. There was also a really good short series of letters between George and Myles about the time Aly and George had to fight their way out of a sticky situation. But (and this is a big but) there is no story. The majority of the content in this book is world building. It's about the history of Tortall, timelines of Tortall, and who/what the Immortals are. George is the "narrator" but the entirety of the book is told through letters, papers, journal entries, and charts.

I was bored and skimmed my way through the majority of the content because I already knew it or I didn't care about it. I knew the history of Tortall, having visited Pierce's website and read through the timeline there. I knew about the Immortals because I read the Immortals Quartet. I didn't care about the cook who had to feed the royal court after the famine. I didn't care about the overviews of the Shadow Service, written by a side character I don't know much about. I just didn't care. This book did not engage or hook me as a reader at all.

I admit, I had hoped for another collection of short stories with characters that I knew and became so excited when the book opened with Alanna's letter to George telling him she was pregnant again. I was like, "Yes! That's what I'm looking for!", only to turn to the first section, "Becoming a Spy," and get bombarded by page after page of the "Workbook for a Young Spy" that was referenced throughout the Trickster books. There were some areas where I stopped and read, such as Ilane's letter to Princess Shinkokami (although that was more world building), Neal's poetry (especially the one dedicated to Yuki although that boy needs better organization skills in his writing), and George's exchanges with Myles. I was intrigued by the poster railing against the "foreigners" and suchlike that caused such wrath in Jon and wanted to know more about that, too. But, sadly, there was little in the way of that sort of content.

Although this book has tidbits and hidden gems that old fans will enjoy, it's not a book for new readers, in that there's a lot of info that reads like a school's history book. Not even George's (or Alan's) snark could alleviate the feel of reading a textbook. So, needless to say, I won't be keeping this book. While Tammy's writing is still wonderful, and the voices of the authors who co-wrote with her are new and fresh, it's far too academic for me. There wasn't enough actual story content to keep me hooked. The bits I got with beloved, established characters were so few and there were so many new additions that there was no time/space to give them depth. Overall, a disappointing experience.
Profile Image for QNPoohBear.
3,103 reviews1,484 followers
September 2, 2018
This is a compendium of information about Tamora Pierce's Tortall. It includes letters, a spy's guide, character guides with drawings, notes on University courses, a timeline of the rulers of Tortall with annotations by Alanna's son Thom and a timeline of events.

The book is beautifully designed. The pages are printed in full color so they look like pieces of parchment sewn together. Some of the pages even have ink blots and other stains (I hope that's not blood on Neal's papers ew!). The text is typed in handwriting fonts so each character has a different style of writing and color of ink. It also includes royal and noble seals that look so real I wanted to touch them. I loved the design! I enjoyed the notes of some of the important people of Tortall but I'm not sure how I feel about the illustrations. They're beautiful but I had my own image in my head of what the characters should look like. Daine comes pretty close and Numair is sort of close but not really and Buri is way off from how I imagined. It's nice to know what Tammy had in mind though since presumably she approved of the artwork.

What I liked best was the personal correspondence between the characters and the humorous asides in George's papers and Thom's list of royals. Thom sounds like he shares his father's sense of humor while the twins are more serious like Alanna. The spy guide went on a little long and the guide to immortals was also a little long. The timeline is not as comprehensive as the one on Tammy's website. The one online contains more spoilers but I kept wondering where Beka fit into the timeline other than 200 years before Alanna. My question was answered by looking at the online timeline. This timeline does contain spoilers for the Song of the Lioness and Wild Magic books and a few minor spoilers for the Protector of the Small and Trickster books. I am taking off points for the bombshell dropped in the first letter. I flipped through the whole book and that letter is the most recently dated item in the whole collection. Don't leave us hanging!! Please please write more about Alanna soon!

If you love the Tortall books, you will enjoy this reference book-aside from the first letter which will drive anyone crazy with wondering what will happen to our intrepid heroine next. The focus is very much on Alanna and her family, Daine and her wild magic and not much on Kel. There's a brief mention of Kel and Kel's friend Neal has some letters and things in the collection. This book doesn't mention Beka at all.

Thank you to Tammy, Tim and the staff at Random House children's books for putting this together. Now if only J.K Rowling will follow through with her own "Scottish book."
Profile Image for Gretar.
15 reviews1 follower
November 2, 2017
I love the Tortall books so much that I even tried to love this too. It didn't work.

The best parts of this book are charming call-backs to characters in the Tortall books. They mostly come in letters between characters. But Tamora Pierce at her best is far more than briefly charming. These parts of the book did little to add to my enjoyment of the characters. If anything, they made me long for a real story.

The worst parts of the book are downright boring. Many give a dry recap of beloved bits of the books. For example, the entry on griffins states that they "beg for food like baby birds, fluttering their wings and opening their beaks for a meal." But we learned that through a real story in the Protector of the Small series. The entry on Stormwings says their "nature is opposed to ours." We know that too; we learned it in the Immortals series, which told a story about it in a way that was moving. Show, don't tell - but especially don't tell us again after you have already shown us!

Perhaps the lowest moment for me was a preface to an overview of a guide to spies. The introduction states that instead of giving us the actual guide, we will get an overview instead. It's almost as if one of the authors realized that a vague description of fictional spycraft, with no connection to story or characters, was too boring to publish, but we needed an explanation as to why we were getting the abridged (but still boring) version.

If for some reason you haven't read the Tortall books, go read them. If you have read them, skip this one. You already know all the best parts.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 377 reviews

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