Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Song of the Lioness Quartet

Song of the Lioness Quartet

Tamora Pierce

  —   $6.99   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

This is actually four books under one review. Pierce writes about strong female characters, usually in their teenage years, in the small kingdom of Tortall. Naturally enough, the primary audience of her books is going to be teenaged girls, but if your son wants a go, let him, because he may find out he likes them.

Oh, and I fell into these as an adult. They're quite good on the story front.

The first book, Alanna: The First Adventure, starts off with a fairly simple premise. Twins Thom and Alanna are to be sent off to study, Alanna at a convent (where she will learn to be a young noblewoman) and Thom at the capitol (where he will learn to be a knight.) The problem is that shy and wary Thom would rather study magic, and brave Alanna would love to be a knight. So Alanna and Thom decide to switch places and become twin boys. Alanna— under the name of Alan— will go off to be a knight, and Thom will study magic at the convent.

After some fast talking of their guardians (and acknowledgement of the fact that their widower father never pays attention to anything other than books), they perform the switch. Alanna studies knighthood while keeping her gender under wraps and has to deal with the fact that powerful magic flows through her as well as her brother.

This book deals well with the difficulties of keeping a secret, especially one that is to become harder to keep as time goes by. Alanna is a hotheaded charmer who is occasionally quite dense as to the matter of people liking her for her forthright nature. The book touches quite lightly on her emotionally absent father, but the few mentions of him are quite enough for those who can read between the lines.

In the Hand of the Goddess deals with those final years between Alanna and her knighthood. She has a few selected friends who know her secret, but she has to be careful of the growing threat to the royal family from within, because she knows that her vigilance is noted. She has to strike a balance between keeping herself safe and protecting her friend the prince.

By "growing friend" I mean that eventually it gets physical. No descriptions, but if you're upset by the idea I wouldn't read this.

Big climactic ending, and yes, Alanna gets her knighthood and her gender exposed in pretty short order.

But wait, there's more... The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is, perhaps, the strangest of these books. For the first year or two of Alanna's knighthood, we go straight from standard European medieval castle (via fantasy, of course) to Middle Eastern nomads on the desert. It makes sense but it's quite a bit of mental whiplash. Alanna's biggest problem at this point is that she has to deal strongly with the magical side of her life, and she doesn't really want to. She's also beginning to get the sense that she really doesn't belong with the heir, but he hasn't caught on to that yet.

The final book, The Lioness Rampant, deals with several threats to Tortall. One is a threat which Alanna thought she had vanquished previously; danger comes from a very unexpected quarter; and there is, naturally enough, a quest with the necessary Mystical Object which the Hero has to find. Alanna, of course, is up for the role of Hero, though she has to talk many people into it.

Magic, explosions, treachery, earthquakes... well, it may not have much of True Love, and certainly not any Fencing, but it'll do.

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