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 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.