Kids’ Books I Like: Tamora Pierce

Middlemarch Madness has got me all worked up about girl power today and, while there are a lot of fantastic YA heroines, I have decided to focus on Alanna and the other badass ladies of Tortall.

I really like Tamora Pierce’s writing style.  Her books are well paced – fast enough to be a fun read, but not so fast that you feel like you are missing things – and her characters are very relatable.  She reminds me of why I started reading YA fiction.  At the time, I was unhappy with adult fantasy authors, it seemed like they were all out to impress us with how creative they could be at the expense of good writing.  (This is when I came up with the litmus test I still use on new books.  If I find more than five made-up words on the first page, I won’t read the book.  It just feels like the writer is trying too hard.)  In teen fantasy the plot lines are just as satisfying, all you lose is a few sex scenes and excessive swearing.  And I do love a plucky young hero.

The Song of the Lioness

The Lioness quartet is the story of Alanna of Trebond.  She trades places with her twin brother so she can learn to be a knight.  The four books span her page training, squire years, and her first few years as a knight.  I’ve mentioned before that I had trouble figuring out femininity as a teenager, so Alanna’s attempts to learn about being a girl, after years of pretending to be a boy, strike a chord with me every time.  She is a wonderfully flawed character – insecure, temperamental, and afraid of commitment.  However, she has the strength and determination to keep fighting her personal demons, as well as the evil sorcerer that keeps trying to take over the kingdom.

The Immortals

The Immortals quartet follows Daine, a young girl who “has a way with animals.”  In  Tortall a lot of people have the Gift, magical powers to some degree or other, but Daine has a kind of magic that nobody recognizes.  She spends most of the first book thinking she’s crazy.  Her story is much more nature-oriented than Alanna’s and Pierce seems more comfortable interjecting a little humor, “Wolf-Speaker” made me laugh out loud more than once.  The Immortals quartet has politics, exotic locations, gods, scary-ass monsters, and even a dragon.

The Protector of the Small Quartet

Of all Pierce’s heroines, Keladry is my favorite.  I almost hate saying it, because I love them all so much, but Kel kicks ass.  After Alanna sneaks through knight training, the king changes the rules so that girls can train openly.  Keladry is the first to take them up on their offer.  She takes a ton of crap from boys who think she can’t do it, and instead of suffering in silence she starts wearing more dresses.  I love the “I’m a girl, deal with it” attitude.  She is big and strong and she won’t tolerate bullies in any form.  Her story arc covers her training years and her first year as a lady knight, and ends with her defeating a seriously creepy bastard.

Daughter of the Lioness

Daughter of the Lioness is only two books, “Trickster’s Choice” and “Trickster’s Queen,” instead of four.  (Pierce credits J.K. Rowling with showing her that young readers can get through books that are more than a couple hundred pages.)  As you may have guessed they are about Alanna’s daughter, Aly.  Instead of a bright shiny hero, Aly is a spy.  She gets shanghaied by the trickster god to help him win a revolution in an island nation that bears some resemblance to British occupied India.  Since the main character is a spy, these books have a lot more intrigue and behind the scenes action than previous series.  It makes for a nice change of pace.  When you compare Alanna to her daughter you can really see how Pierce’s writing has evolved over the years.

Her latest Tortall series is “The Legend of Beka Cooper.”  As of now there are two books, “Terrier” and “Bloodhound,” with at least one more planned for some time this year. Beka is essentially a rookie cop who lived a few generations before Alanna, back when women were allowed to be fighters.  There have been a few tantalizing hints about a growing religious group who condemns women who won’t remain soft and take their place in the home.  I have high hopes that we will eventually find out how warrior women disappeared from the kingdom until Alanna and Kel brought them back.  It will make me crazy, but I do love a good backstory.

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[E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/AngryOwlStudio if you're interested in checking it out.

23 thoughts on “Kids’ Books I Like: Tamora Pierce”

  1. I got the first one when I was in the third grade and LOVED it. Thus, a life of reading fantasy began;). I think Alanna and her friends are the reason I was a feminist at such a young age. I wanted to be as badass as her, and I took the books as a sign that I could do all the “boy stuff” too. Where would feminists be without books like this?

  2. I’VE MET HER!!! And she signed a bunch of my books (which are now rather ratty, since it’s been almost ten years. I just can’t find covers I like when I have the money to get knew copies-for-reading). The Circle of Magic books were always my favorite, because I loved the idea of the temples so much.

    1. I’ve met her as well! She is the sweetest, cutest thing in the world.

      I thought the world of Tortall was better (in the its more expansive & thought out I think), but I liked the small focus on the kids in the Circle of Magic books. Their relationship was always something really special to me, I identified with it a lot more.

  3. I’ve never been moved to sign up to comment on a site like this before, but visiting for the first time and seeing a Tamora Pierce article on the front page was a sign I had to join.

    I started with Wild Magic/The Immortals and then moved backwards to the Lioness books. By the time Kel’s series came out, younger me had caved to outside pressures deeming fantasy novels “not cool enough.” So even though I told myself I couldn’t buy them, I sat in the aisles of the bookstore and made my way through the next few books.

    I’ve got over that whole “not cool” thing, and I think how much I loved these books had a lot to do with it. My mom knows that she can pass on my old childhood books to cousins and others, but the Pierce books stay (hopefully for when I have my own kids.)

    Strong women breaking stereotypical gender barriers? Sounds a bit like how my professional life turned out. It seems I had some good (fictional) role models.

  4. I don’t have any comments on Tamora Pierce, so feel free to delete – I just wanted to say how much I LOVE that you guys are doing this Kds’ Books series. The Fines Lines feature that got me started reading Jezebel has been sorely missed and I’m thrilled that there’s now a replacement!!

  5. I only found them a few years ago. I have a weird prejudice against authors with a ton of books on the shelves (I blame it on a bad Piers Anthony experience). Tamora Pierce was a part of my attempt to get past my irrational fear of popular authors and I am so glad. Her books are like comfort food for me, and my son likes them too :)

    1. Oh, Piers Anthony! Not as clever as he thinks he is.

      I have a suggestion for a later Kids’ Books post: Robin McKinley. Her books The Hero and the Crown / The Blue Sword were mainstays of my adolescence, and I still reread them every couple years or so.

      1. I was going to say that I had already written a bit about Robin McKinley in my fairy tale post, but I just went back and checked and she’s not there. (I have a huge thing for fairy tales by the way) I believe I cut McKinley from that post so I could do one about her on her own.

        Thanks for reminding me! I’ll go re-read The Hero and the Crown in preparation :)

  6. Let me tell you my story with Alanna.

    When I was in the 5th grade – omg, lisa frank stickers – my aunt gave me a book for my birthday based solely on the fact that her name is similar to mine (fyi my name is not actually the slope of a line). She thought I would love to read a book about a girl who had a name like mine – why? who knows, she’s the crazy aunt.

    I took the book to school and lost it nearly immediately. I didn’t even get to read the first few pages. But I had been SO EXCITED to read it. It was devastating to lose it, but only for about a day or two because I was in the 5th grade, my attention span was even shorter than it is now.

    In the 8th grade I realized that I still had never found that book and knew very little about it. All I could tell you is that I HAD to find it. It felt like a quest. It took me months to first remember the damn name of it and then find a copy – god bless the internet, I could have cut those months down to a few google searches. Anyway, I bought it as soon as I found out who the author was. I read that book in like three damn days. SO GOOD. And then I realized there was a sequel! I read that in a week (paced myself). I’m pretty certain it helped shape me and who I wanted to be, even after all those years without it.

    And now. As a grownass adult, you are telling me that Tamora Pierce has 16 books with more on the way?! God Damn! I am so behind.

    Thanks for this post. All of these books sound so good. I don’t think I’ll have a problem reading these YA books on the train. Haters can hate to the left.

  7. It’s clearly implied that Alanna has sexytimes with 3 male characters in the course of her series, which is a refreshing change from “I will only do it with my One True Luv”.

    The Trickster’s Duo is a really fun read that I enjoyed immensely. The political intrigues were a blast, and the romance subplot was very well done.

    1. Looking back on the books I’m so impressed with the author. She has sex that she enjoys but she doesn’t marry the first man she had sex with! And she doesn’t marry a man she admittedly does love, because she knows she would have to change herself too much. I think those are some pretty great messages for books that are aimed at young-ish girls!

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