Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite authors. She is on the short list of “oh, I saw one of Tamora’s books I haven’t read. I’ll pick that up and read it.” I don’t love every book of hers I’ve read, but I’ve loved enough.
And pretty much anything she wrote in Tortall is a win for me. All of those books stem from this series. I recently re-read it (for probably the hundredth time), but this time on audiobook. So I some of those sections I’ve skimmed the last few read throughs came back into focus.
So first off – this book is a 10/10. I think everyone (male, female, young, old) should read this series. It isn’t long or arduous or painful. Each book is an awesome ~150 pages of really solid writing. I know I’m pretty much drooling over it, but if anything listening to it and honing in on those sections I’ve skipped a few times reminded me why I loved it when I first read it and let me recapture that joy.
It is a coming of age story. It’s following Alanna of Trebond as she tries to become a lady knight. So in the first book she’s 10-14, the second 14-18, the third is just one year and the fourth is probably a little less than a year. The first two are longer year-lengths because she’s learning. Once they set up her class schedule, Pierce can jump forward to the important moments and bits. The second book probably has the most pacing struggle because of this – there are several important moments and Pierce has to jump in for a few days, jump back for weeks, then jump back in when the action needs attention.
That’s probably my harshest criticism for the series. Part of the reason I say everyone – one of the feminists “complaints” I’ve seen is that men don’t read stories about women. This is a perfect introduction. In the first book when Alanna is struggling with “but I’m a girl just pretending” and feeling all the doubts of whether she can make it – honestly, who hasn’t felt like an impostor? The boys do too and could relate to her struggle. They might not understand it to the level, but we’ve all felt like an outsider and impostor. Perfect book for them (a) to experience relating to a female (b) seeing that we all have those feelings – even someone who is amazing and (c) it’s got some of the best relationships between men and women I’ve ever read.
So the one thing that I want to warn people about – especially because this is a “young adult” novel is that Alanna has sex. With more than one person. But you know what – these books saved me from some truly terrible relationships. I’m not exaggerating either. In college, I dated someone (shortly) who was abusive and controlling. I re-read these books over the summer and the questions Alanna asked in her relationship (which was helluva lot better than the one I was playing with) made me take a huge step back and think “shit. Firstly, I deserve better and secondly. Shit.” The reasons she gets into relationships are human – sometimes imperfect and full of problems; but you know what? She keeps asking the question of what she wants her relationship to look like – and figuring it out.
I will (someday) have my kids read these books. When they begin dating we will talk about the relationships Alanna has and why they work or don’t work. We will talk about how she figured it out and when it was ok to have sex and when it wouldn’t be. We will talk about using protection and why it’s so powerful for women (’cause fantasy of course has what’s essentially birth control). Sons as well as daughters need to think about these things and answer questions about their relationships.
Seriously – if you haven’t picked up this book yet, you might get a few days off over Thanksgiving or Christmas – use them to read this series. None of them should take very long and after you read these you can move on to Wild Magic (the next series in Tortall – and the audio version of that one is a full cast, let’s just say I want to BUY that audio series).