Seeing Brave got me thinking about books I enjoyed as a girl, and I’ve felt compelled to read them again, to see how I would view them as an adult. I’m starting with a series of books that I loved, Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series.
The series begins when the protagonist, Alanna of Trebond, is 10 years old. She was born into a noble family in the Kingdom of Tortall, and like all young ladies, she is due to attend a convent school that will train her to live at court. However, she would much rather train to be a knight, then make her fortune in the world as a warrior maiden. Her twin brother, Thom, loathes the idea of knighthood, and would prefer to train as a sorceror, as both twins possess ‘the Gift’ of magic. They concoct a plan to switch places, and Alanna travels to the royal palace, in the capitol city of Corus, to pass herself off as ‘Alan’ and begin her life as a page.
Alanna faces many challenges, as the training is long and hard, and she feels continued insecurity over the potential discovery of her sex. However, she makes a solid group of friends amongst the older boys, including the Crown Prince, Jonathan, and has the support of her manservant Coram, and her history teacher, Sir Myles. She also meets the King of Thieves in the city, George, who proves to be a consistent and valuable friend, and to whom she reveals her female identity.
One of the best aspects of the book is the manner in which Alanna confronts obstacles. She’s devastated to discover she’s not a natural with a sword, so she gets up extra early to practice with Coram’s heavy sword, and her hard work pays off. Alanna has also resisted exploring her magic Gift due to fear over the extent of her powers, which prove to be significant, but she is forced to do so when Jonathan falls ill with a sorcery-induced illness that has ravaged the city and drained the magical healers of their powers.Alanna helps Jonathan escape great, magical danger at the conclusion of the first book, and in the process is revealed to be a girl. Rather than turning her in, as Alanna expects, Jonathan asks her to be his squire, as he is about to take the Ordeal of Knighthood.
Upon re-reading, I was struck by how many good male characters there are in the books. Indeed, the only other female characters that appear in the first book are Alanna’s local healer, who taught her about her magic; the Queen, who briefly appears; and George’s mother, who clues Alanna in when she gets her period and assumes she’s suffering some terrible disease. I probably read these books shortly before I got my period, so I’m sure I appreciated that they actually dealt with puberty.
Anyway, there are a lot of good male characters, who are true friends to Alanna, before and after they learn she’s a girl, who mentor her through obstacles, and who come to admire her for her perseverance and skill. It struck me that she really has two father figures: Coram, who basically raised her; and Myles, who later adopts her as his heir. A couple of good female characters appear in the fourth book.
There’s also a love triangle starting in the second book, which I guess is acceptable because these books were written well before Twilight. Both Prince Jonathan and George the King of Thieves love Alanna, and she loves them back, although she initially feels more romantically inclined toward Jonathan, and they start sleeping together shortly before she becomes a knight (nothing explicit). I’m pretty sure that the first time I read these I had a crush on Jonathan; reading them as an adult, I definitely side with George, who always remains a friend to both Alanna and Jonathan, no matter what. I think I didn’t like that George is several years older than Alanna, but that doesn’t bother me as an adult.
The second two books in the series deal with Alanna negotiating her identity as a female knight. Her friends accept her as she is; many others do not. She continues to fight for the good of Tortall, and I don’t want to give too many spoilers, so I’ll just say that she tends to rise to the occasion.
On the negative side, I think Alanna cries too much in the latter two books. I’m not saying she shouldn’t cry ever, it just loses its effectiveness that she does it so frequently. It’s a little strange. In some respects, the first book in the series is the strongest and most engaging, and I think the third book is the weakest. Jonathan becomes excessively bratty for no good reason. Alanna also has an affair with a third man, Liam, in the fourth book. I don’t understand why, because that wasn’t an obvious outcome of their meeting, and he comes across as rather self-satisfied and condescending. I mean, he calls her ‘kitten’, which irritates me, even if it doesn’t irritate Alanna.
Overall though, it was definitely fun to revisit this series, and I think I’ll read more Tamora Pierce–I know she published books after I ceased to read fantasy novels for young adults, which was when I was about 12.
Update: I wrote another post about the problematic relationship behaviors of Jonathan and George, because I do think they need to be discussed.
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