Recently, I read Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce. It was time to return to a favorite author of my childhood. Reading that book only reminded me that I adore Tamora Pierce. As a child, I read The Song of the Lioness quartet repeatedly until the spine of the books broke. At which point, I acquired new books. And the cycle repeated. Re-reading Alanna: The First Adventure 15 years later, I still adore these books, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the quartet again!
Alanna: The First Adventure is an upper-middle-grade fantasy novel. Alanna and her twin brother, Thom, are 11-years-old and are about to be sent away from their home of Trebond for their education. The trouble is that Thom wants to be a sorcerer and is being sent off to learn to be a knight. And Alanna wants to be a knight and is being sent off to the covenant to learn to be a Lady. Mournful of their fates, the twins scheme together to trade places– after all, the sorcerers are all trained in the covenant! Alanna renames herself Alan and heads to the castle in Thom’s place. Adventures ensue as “Alan of Trebond” begins her quest to become a knight. Caught in the intrigue of hiding her proper sex as she goes through puberty, as well as learning how to cope with sorcery, Gods, nobles, and thieves — Alanna has more in store for her than she ever expected. But at least she has a plan: Once she turns 18 and has won her shield and knighthood, proven herself to the King and the court, Alan will reveal her true identity. She just had to get through the next 9 years…
Pierce’s first novel is very simply written. It’s a straightforward account of hidden identity, knightly training, coming-of-age tales, and magic. Checking in at only 216 pages, the brevity of Pierce’s writing shows her restraint. Particularly knowing that she now has a total of 21 books set in this world. Pierce had a plan for Tortall, and a future prepared for this. The world building is minimal, but I enjoy that in this context. Pierce balances what she expects readers to already know about medieval settings with information critical to Alanna’s story. We only are told what is relevant to push the book forward. This ensures the pace is swift. Perfect for the intended age range of 9-12, and a wonderful gateway to more intense fantasy reading in the future.
Alanna is a wonderfully complex and realistic character. She is passionate, angry, determined, loyal, conflicted, excited, hard working, anxious, and headstrong. Alanna is far from perfect, but easy to like. She is not above manipulation and lying on her quest to be the first Lady Knight in generations, but she feels guilty about it. Alanna knows what she wants, and will do everything she has to in order to achieve her dreams. Yet, despite how headstrong and determined she is, Alanna has many flaws.
This book covers Alanna’s years of 11-14, and Pierce describes a very realistic 11 to 14-year-old. Alanna makes assumptions about how the world works and is often proven wrong. She has a temper. She is frequently blind to what is best for her purely because she is stubborn. My favorite part of her character is how Alanna understands what it means to be a woman, or really, her lack of that understanding. Her mother died after childbirth, and the only woman in Alanna’s life had been limited interactions with the village healer. That said, at 11-years-old, Alanna has had little to no conversation with anyone about what it means to be a woman. All she knew was that noble women are expected to be ladies. When Alanna’s breasts start to grow in, she panics. She completely believes that she can stop it by binding them and going about her daily Page tasks.
Obviously, I immediately plan on binge reading the remaining three books. Bring it on!