Right from the start, we know that In the Hand of the Goddess will be a more intense book that its predecessor, Alanna: The First Adventure. Opening with Alanna meeting the Goddess herself, Alanna is told she must address her three greatest fears if she is to succeed. That’s right, unlike most fantasy novels, being the Chosen of a goddess doesn’t make your life suddenly super easy. No Deux Ex Machina here, people. In fact, it means that Alanna will have greater obstacles to overcome. The Goddess is not offering Alanna any overt assistance to achieve her quests, either. Bring it on.
It’s important, dear reader, to know that the Song of the Lioness quartet was highly edited by the publishers. In fact, if you compare these books to any of Pierce’s other series, these books are remarkably short. That’s because no one thought that a fantasy series featuring a female protagonist would sell. In fact, the original story was one 732 page novel. Many parts were removed and highly edited to create the 4 book series we know today. This process made for this series to sometimes feel choppy (I personally find the pace perfect for Middle Grade readers), but the key piece that’s missing revolves around additional world building.
(However, you’ve got to note that a book that has been republished this many times with this many covers must be good!)
Why do boys say someone acts like a girl as if it were an insult?
You see, in the Gods have a lot of rules around them in the universe Pierce has built– we just don’t get to learn a lot of those rules in this series. It’s not that the Goddess is intentionally making life hard for Alanna. It’s that she only has so much control. But, the Goddess does help Alanna in many ways, very covertly. Alanna rarely acknowledges them, but those frequent fantasy readers can easily find the clues if we look. You might have noticed Alanna seems to be acquiring a ton of magical gear…
The involvement of the Goddess is critical to this story, but it’s not what really makes this story tick for me. In the Hand of the Goddess covers Alanna’s development from a Squire to a Knight– from ages 14 to 18. And, as we all know, a lot happens during those ages. In Alanna’s case, she has to come to terms with her gender identity and the sexual exploits of those between 14-18 years of age.
Alanna’s acceptance of her gender is one of the strongest points of this novel. She is constantly fighting an internal battle between her desire to love and the complications it will bring as she pretends to be a man, between the feminine side that is constantly calling to her and the masculine side that will keep her safe and drive her towards her goals. Previously, Alanna pushed aside the feminine side of herself completely. To the point where she thought she might be able to magically turn herself into a man. Yet, now she is starting to become who she really will be. Alanna realizes that once she passes the Ordeal, she will need to tell the world she is a woman. She also recognizes that she can’t share that with the world until she is comfortable as a woman. It won’t be easy, but gosh darn it, she’s going to work for it.
You didn’t kill him. He would have killed you, but you didn’t kill him.
So? He was stupid. If I killed everyone who was stupid, I wouldn’t have time to sleep.
I am so proud of Pierce for introducing this subplot. It subtly addresses that feminity does not equal weakness. In fact, those who know Alanna’s secret have been telling her this all along. But Alanna doesn’t believe them– and for good reason! She has grown up with outrage around this idea– no one can be a warrior and look like a girl. It isn’t until she has repeatedly proven herself that her friends defend she can be both a warrior and a woman. When Alanna finally does become a knight
Sexual activity begins in this novel. While sex itself is never explicitly addressed, it’s certainly there between the lines. Obviously,
I don’t want to fall in love. I just want to be a warrior maiden.
As addressed above, Alanna is struggling with where love falls in her life. This includes sexual activity, though Alanna doesn’t realize it yet. She gets jealous when Prince Jonathan spends the night with other women. She is frustrated with how the men of her life, who know she is a woman, tend to be fickle with their attentions. At one point, Alanna is in a dress, embracing her feminity, when one of the men starts to put the moves on her. His lines are all the teenage gross things you’d expect to hear:
You’re fighting what has to be. and Surely you’ve realized all along this has to happen.
So what does Alanna do?
But the critical scene comes later. Back in her room, Alanna is deconstructing her reaction. Yes, boys are stupid and she can’t believe that anyone would do something like that. But, she realizes that she wants physical contact. She wants love. And she is ready. So, having made the decision on her own, Alanna goes to his room and spends the night.
It’s this presentation of teenage sex that I adore. This is a choice that Alanna made because she wants it, and like hell is anyone going to pressure her into it. Also, this intimate moment isn’t really a turning point in the story. Instead, this moment is subtle and almost insignificant. But it’s so very powerful.
Obviously, lots of other amazing knightly things happen in this story. But this book speaks to me so much because of how subtly feminist it is– this book teaches lessons to girls about who they are and what they can be without smacking them over the head. It’s a wonderful and simple read.