The Song of the Lioness Quartet

Alanna: The First AdventureAlanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, Lioness Rampant
By Tamora Pierce [Pierce at LibraryThingPierce at Amazon]

Women in Tortall are not warriors, but 11-year-old Alanna would much rather become a knight than a lady or a sorceress — so she hatches a plan to trade places with her twin brother. Disguised as a boy named Alan, she enters training as a page, hoping to become a knight before she is discovered. As Alanna works to prove herself, learning both fighting and magic, she becomes friends with Prince Jonathan — and with George Cooper, a rogue who is the King of Thieves. But all of her friendships and new skills may not be enough when only Alanna realizes that the prince’s cousin, a powerful sorcerer himself, is plotting to take the throne to Tortall… And it seems like only Alanna will be able to stop him. (Very mild uncovered spoilers behind the cut.)

In the Hand of the GoddessI really, seriously, desperately wish I had read the Alanna books when I was a pre-teen. They are exactly what I wanted: Alanna is a strong, dynamic hero who kicks ass and takes names like nobody’s business. She’s smart, she’s interesting, and more than anything else, she’s powerful. Growing up, I craved stories of exactly that kind. I definitely get why these rank among Jess’s all-time favorites, and I wish I could have experienced them that way, too. The books definitely do stand up to critical reading by an adult, don’t get me wrong. But I did register a few flaws reading now that I definitely wouldn’t have if I’d read as a kid.

The first, and by far most noticeable, is really not Pierce’s fault — it’s just very clear that the first book was her first book. There are moments through the whole series that are a little bit unpolished, but the first two books are a bit rough throughout. There are a lot of POV changes, some of which are fine, but many of which are abrupt and awkward. But mostly the problem is that the first two books contain a lot of telling that would be more effective if it were showing instead. This is most noticeable when it comes to Alanna’s friendship with George: while we occasionally see Alanna head into the city to talk with him, the actual development of their friendship happens largely off-screen, so to speak. We know George senses something about Alanna that makes him want to befriend her, but the actual process of becoming friends is largely skipped over; there are a lot of references to how close they are, but we never actually see them become close, or see much of the time they spend together. All this was really summed up to me when Alanna says to another character in the third book, “Some of the most intelligent women I knew growing up were prostitutes.” She’s referring to women she met while she spent time with George and the rogues…but we, as readers, never saw her talk to a single prostitute.

The Woman Who Rides Like a ManIt wouldn’t be a huge deal if not for the fact that George is one of Alanna’s potential love interests. I adore the way her love life plays out, so I’ll put this under a spoiler tag so as not to ruin it for anyone accidentally! show

The other mild issue I had with the books was the pacing. That is — the first two books are fast moving and fun. Those are also the two in which there’s a clear-cut antagonist. But the antagonist is defeated at the end of the second book, and so, while there are hints of brewing trouble throughout the third and fourth, those books meander. I spent much of the third waiting for something to actually happen. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good read; I enjoyed every minute of it. But there wasn’t a lot of plot. The fourth book picks up again a bit, but feels kind of scattered; without an obvious antagonist, Alanna’s quest seems almost superfluous. The climax, when an antagonist emerges, is great — but I think the second half of the series would have benefitted from giving Alanna more distinct goals, so she would have been working towards something specific instead of wandering around.

Okay, with all that said, what the books did well (nearly everything else), they did really well. Alanna’s development as a character was fantastic; the third book may have wandered, but it also involved Alanna doing a lot of reflection and discovery, and she emerged a more mature character. The other characters were simply delightful: I loved George, and the cast of commoners he brought with him; I loved Jon, and the other knights Alanna trained with. I enjoyed the Bazhir tribes in the third book, and I really enjoyed the new characters introduced in the fourth. And even Faithful, Alanna’s sometimes-talking cat, was a fully-realized character. Further, Alanna’s two father figures (as her own father has no interest in her whatsoever) are both great, and her relationships with them are lovely.

Lioness RampantBut more than anything, I think, I love the way the books deal with Alanna’s various romances. I’m not someone who reads for romance, so while I enjoyed her various entanglements, that wasn’t really what got me. I just loved how the book presented Alanna’s relationships: even when caught in a love triangle with Jon and George, it was very, very clear that the choice was Alanna’s. The men weren’t competing for her; she wasn’t spoils to be awarded to a victor. Jon and George were friends, even, who just happened to love the same person. Further, unlike most heroines, when she was old enough to want to have sex, Alanna did so — safely, and with a person she chose and trusted. She was never punished for it, never recieved a comeuppance. That’s really unusual in fantasy aimed at any age group, let alone YA. And finally, she even took a break to step outside the love triangle entirely. She met and became involved with an unrelated character in the fourth book, in what is the only relationship I can think of from a fantasy novel that really reads like my own, real-life experiences: show

So overall: what was excellent about this series far, far outweighed what wasn’t — and the things that I noticed were mostly quite small anyway. I would absolutely give this series to anyone looking for some good YA fantasy (or some good books, period). Tammy Pierce continues to run an A average: four cupcakes.


    5 Responses to “The Song of the Lioness Quartet”

    1. Jessica says:

      I LOVE THESE BOOKS. I mean, you know that, but LOVE. LOOOOOOVE.

      The rambling plot-takes-a-backseat-to-character-development is what I was talking about in the Kel books and the Circle books. No! Do something, girls! Punch a bad guy! IT IS NECESSARY.

    2. Rebecca says:

      Well, you probably know how I feel about punchination. (Hint: I am in favor.)

    3. Alix says:

      Oh man, I love the Tortall series, I love it with all my heart.

      Tamora Pierce over the years has done something that I think not all (or even many) writers do. She has gotten consistently and continuously better. I recently reread the entire Tortall series in order and watching the development of the Tortall universe is fascinating. It was particularly amazing reading her latest book, which takes place several hundred years before the others and actually manages to *sound* older.

      I seem to recall seeing a review for the Kel series here, but I don’t remember which of you wrote it. Anyway I’d love to hear your guys’ perspective on the series as a whole.

    4. 12Sided says:

      oh I remember picking up Tortall books from my high school library, I loved them so much XD I think I was playing Baldur’s Gate at the time as well. Good times…

    5. Sara says:

      I loved this book!!! i’m reading it for the 3 time!!! and i cant get enough of it!!! but its a shame alanna didn’t end up marying Jon.

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