I have been reading something I should have read long ago. But this way I can talk up a classic YA series.
Over the weekend I flew through the first three books in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. I had been introduced to Pierce last summer when I had to review Trickster’s Queen for SLJ. I of course had to read Trickster’s Choice first, and I was totally engrossed and thoroughly loving Tamora Pierce and her work by the time I had finished. And I knew that I should be reading more of her stuff, and that I would love it, but I never got around to it because of all the other new stuff I felt obligated to read.
So Friday night I began with Alanna: The First Adventure where we meet Alanna of Trebond, who hates the idea of being sent away to a convent to be made into a lady. She wants more than anything to learn to be a knight, and earn her shield. So she convinces her twin brother to switch places with her (he wants to learn to be a great sorceror, and would have gone to the monastery near the aforementioned convent of doom) and she goes off to the palace, disguised as a boy and answering to “Alan.” The twins’ father is too engrossed in his studies to notice or care what his children are up to. Alanna almost gives up at first because it is so hard, but Coram, the soldier sent with her to the palace dares her into staying. She works very hard to prove herself, and proves to be quite tenacious, even when a bully abuses her, or the sword master tells her she’ll never be any good. She also becomes friends with many of the pages and squires, including Prince Jonathan, whom she saves from a strange sweating sickness that attacks the palace. Alanna has “the gift” (or magical powers) but is mostly afraid to use it for fear that the gift will overpower and destroy her. She also meets George Cooper, the King of Thieves, who lives in the city. They become friends and he sells Alanna her first real horse.
In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment, and we see Alanna a little older. She is a squire now, and still very much disguised as a boy, even though this has gotten harder as her body is changing. She is chosen by Prince Jonathan to become his personal squire and the two form a close friendship. But the Prince’s cousin, Duke Roger (a powerful sorcerer), has started to become suspicious to Alanna. She thinks he is the one that sent the sweating sickness that almost killed the prince, and he seems to be egging Jonathan on to do crazy things, which leads Alanna and Jonathan to a very scary encounter in the Black City where they battle the Unnamed Ones. The conclusion to this book puts Alanna in a duel to the death with Duke Roger.
But we know how it comes out because there wouldn’t be two more books otherwise, right? So we come the third book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. In the conclusion of the last book, Alanna has not only earned her knighthood, she is also “outed” by Duke Roger, and everyone knows at last that she is a female. And because she feels the king disapproves of her because she withheld this information, she sets out with faithful Coram on adventures. They ride south and through a series of hair-raising events, Alanna becomes the shaman of a desert tribe of the Bazhir people. She must train her apprentices before she can move on, and ends up finding comfort in life with the tribe. However, inner struggles that have been nagging at Alanna since the beginning of her journey into knighthood seem to surface. She feels uncomfortable in her skin as a woman, and uncomfortable with the fact that two men (Prince Jonathan and George Cooper) are competeing for her affections. Which one will she choose? She is sure that she never wants to marry because that would mean giving part of herself away. I am sure most of these problems will be resolved in the final book, Lioness Rampant, which I have just started to read.
Tamora Pierce is a really excellent writer. Her characters are well-developed, the plots interesting, and there is a lot of humor worked in. (Anyone who calls her husband a “spouse-creature” can present humor effectively.) And I just love that her protagonist is a female that can compete with any man on a mental and physical level. And as I am reading this series, I can totally see now how Alianne in the Trickster books is a perfect blend of her mother and father. (Ah, yes, I do know who Alanna finally chooses!)
These are excellent reads all around.
~posted by Anna M. Nelson