Girl Mages and Lady Knights

Day 15 – Your “comfort” book

It’s probably time that I talked about Tamora Pierce, and the Tortall books. I discovered Alanna of Trebond at the perfect time – my early teens – with the second book of four. I have read every book Tamora Pierce has written since. One of my favourite comfort reading routines was to read through all the Alanna books, then the Daine books, and finally the Kel books. Each heroine is my favourite, when I am reading her.

When I’m not actually reading the Alanna books, it’s easy to be critical of her. There’s something about an author’s first hero – and I did this too – that tends to smack of self-indulgence. She’s a teenager with red hair and purple eyes who becomes a knight AND has magic AND has all the boys in love with her AND has a cat who talks to her. We should all be hating her and hurling Mary Sue accusations in her general direction…

And yet.

There is so much brilliance in these books. Long before YA fantasy became the powerhouse genre it now is, Tamora Pierce was writing about these amazing, capable young women who blew the expectations of female roles in fantasy fiction out of the water. And every time I go back to them, I remember just what made Alanna great.

(some spoilers below)

She disguises herself as a boy for years and trains hard to earn her shield as a knight (this is actually the least impressive part of what she does, for me, as I thought that Keladry had a much harder task half a generation later, going through all the same trials AS a girl, dealing with all the ingrained sexism and hatred against her). Alanna’s goal is unrelenting, though, and that is impressive. She wants to be a lady knight and travel the world doing good deeds, and she damn well does it.

She has love affairs – more than one, before she settles down with a permanent person. She has sex, and negotiates contraception. (this is a HUGE deal for YA fantasy or fantasy fiction full stop) While her early years have her mostly surrounded by boys, she does develop important friendships with women, and particularly ends up mentoring some powerful young girls, to whom she feels a great responsibility. Ultimately, she is forced into a position where she has to choose between her deep loyalty to her king, and her own family, and she makes the right choice.

And oh yes, when given the opportunity to become a Queen and live the traditional fairytale, she runs like hell.

Damn, I love this woman. Prickly, tough as nails, terribly brave, and the best possible friend to have at your back when the shit goes down.

When I’m feeling crappy, or sick, or lost, or just need something squishy and so familiar I could possibly recite it in my sleep, I reach for an Alanna book. If Alanna doesn’t do it, there’s the magic of Daine, or the grim determination of my beloved Kel. There are new books too – the Trickster’s Choice books about Alanna’s daughter, and the more recent Beka Cooper books. While I like these, I haven’t yet re-read them. But I have a suspicion that like Tamora’s earlier works, these will grow with me, and become part of me the more times I read them.

Aren’t books awesome?

Other Days of the Book Meme:

Day 01 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)
Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about
Day 03 – The best book you’ve read in the last 12 months
Day 04 – Your favorite book or series ever
Day 05 – A book or series you hate
Day 06 – Favorite book of your favorite series OR your favorite book of all time
Day 07 – Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise
Day 08 – A book everyone should read at least once
Day 09 – Best scene ever
Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 11 – A book that disappointed you
Day 12 – A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times
Day 13 – Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)
Day 14 – Favorite character in a book (of any sex or gender)
Day 15 – Your “comfort” book
Day 16 – Favorite poem or collection of poetry
Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.)
Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book
Day 19 – Favorite book cover (bonus points for posting an image!)
Day 20 – Favorite kiss
Day 21 – Favorite romantic/sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)
Day 22 – Favorite non-sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)
Day 23 – Most annoying character ever
Day 24 – Best quote from a novel
Day 25 – Any five books from your “to be read” stack
Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending
Day 27 – If a book contains ______, you will always read it (and a book or books that contain it)!
Day 28 – First favorite book or series obsession
Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)
Day 30 – What book are you reading right now?

3 replies on “Girl Mages and Lady Knights”

  1. Jo says:

    Daine is the one for me, Daine and the harpy (I think?) who was her enemy for so long he almost becomes a friend by the end of it… Ye gods, I haven’t read those books in over 10 years and I never did own them, I only borrowed them from the library. I’ll have to remedy that one of these days.

  2. Jess says:

    I was surprised that you didn’t mention the Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens. Those four kids – so very different, yet strong enough to come together and form the deepest of friendships in order to face their personal and collective challenges – just wow. As a teenager that was starting to realise that none of her friends were really into the same things that she was – those books were heart-warming and filled with just enough hope to get me over any self-pity parties that I tried to host.

    Having said that, the Immortals were my favourite books, if not for the animal-speak, then for the fact that romantically, the impossible happened and the young girl actually got to be with the significantly older man… in a YA book of all places! It quite possibly started me off on my love of not-so-conventional romances.

    As for Alanna – yes looking back she is quite Mary-Sueish but who could argue against PURPLE EYES! I just kept reminding myself of Liz Taylor – if she could have them, why the hell couldn’t Alanna?! Also, one of my favourite authorial anecdotes comes from Alanna and George’s(?) relationship (mostly because I love when the same thing happens in my writing). Tamora Pierce talked once (did I dream that she came to Tassie?)about how she had always intended that Alanna would end up with Jonathan but when she went to write it, Alanna kept telling her: ‘uh uh, not him – we don’t fit together in that way’ and then she pointed Pierce in the direction of George, who of course was who she was SUPPOSED to be with!

    Phew, that was a bit tl;dr, sorry about that! Guess Pierce holds a special place in my heart too 🙂

  3. tansyrr says:

    Hi Jess

    I enjoyed the Circle books but those characters never captured my heart like Alanna, Kel and Daine did.

    I’ve never heard Tamora Pierce speak (I am pretty sure she has been to Tassie though) – and that’s so funny about Jonathan and George. Alanna’s resistance to Jonathan is one of the best things about those books because it really does mess with expectations. To have a loving but ultimately failed relationship in fantasy is SO RARE. Let alone in YA fantasy.

    I also love the fact that Alanna finds Jon a bride herself just to make sure he stops asking her 😀

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