For me, the best parts about the stories were Tamora's explorations of characters and motivations. My favorite character, Kitten (Skysong) the dragon, has her own story in this book, told from her point of view. She is bored bored bored BORED while on tour in Carthak, so wanders off with Spots the horse to find her own trouble. What she finds is not the usual den of thieves, but a runaway mage hidden by an even more magical secret. That story was a fun romp that focused on the emotions and motivations of a child-aged dragon with nothing to do and no one for playmates besides a too-smart horse.
The harder work as a reader was in the first few stories and the last two. Pierce created and explored a very restrictive, religious society where girls were not educated and most of the population bowed under what could be interpreted as Sharia laws. In both "Elder Brother" and "Hidden Girl", we visit this ignorant society from the point of view of free-thinking young women, and learn about the two very different choices they make for rebelling against that system. In the last two stories, Pierce moves to the current and modern day. One of them is about a girl who wants to be a runner, and how joining a clique can cost more than just individuality. The last story abandons fantasy completely in order to tell the only-slightly-fictionalized story about "breaking in" a new housemother at a halfway home for wayward girls.
As I said at the beginning, the depth of the stories changed a great deal as well. There were interesting filler stories about the plains cultures and the toughness expected from the tribes, about a merchant girl who loves mathematics, about how young dragons also have coming-of-age testing as well, and about the basic silliness of trying to sacrifice a virgin to a dragon. They were all well-written and enjoyable, and none of them linked back with any strength to the main Tortall stories. With that lack of linkage, as well as the erratic length and depth of the stories, I don't think that I will keep this book because I don't expect that I will revisit it enough to warrant granting it that shelf space. I'm glad I bought it, but I'll also be pleased to pass it on.
-- New-to-me books read in 2011 (as opposed to re-reads) --
Little Dee vol 2
Little Dee vol 3
The Black Stallion (yes, I know, I should have read it with Black Beauty)
Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard's Name, with a pre-finished commentary here
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Fang Bangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love
Must Love Hellhounds
Dark and Stormy Knights
Tortall and Other Lands
River Marked (2/28 - it arrived a day early)
Questionable Content, vol 1
-- Books abandoned rather than completed in 2011 --
Sing the Four Quarters, by Tanya Huff
-- Books Still in Progress --
These are books that I haven't totally given up on, I've just... put them aside... for now. And gee, look at how many of them are non-fiction!
The Brand Within
If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails
Swords and Dark Magic