In the Hand of the Goddess

September 18, 2016
In the Hand of the Goddess Book Cover In the Hand of the Goddess
Song of the Lioness, #2
Tamora Pierce
Fantasy
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
April 19th, 2011
eBook
252
Owned
1984

From Tamora Pierce, the second book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet, honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award.

Alanna, disguised as a boy, becomes a squire to none other than the heir to the throne. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna's liege lord, he is also her best friend - and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a vicious sorcerer threatens the prince's life, it will take all of Alanna's skill, strength, and magical power to protect him, even at the risk of surrendering her dreams. 

(via Goodreads)

 

Right from the start, we know that In the Hand of the Goddess will be a more intense book that its predecessorin-the-hand-ofthe-goddess-cover-3, 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 in-the-hand-ofthe-goddess-cover-2Squire 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 the whole court is in shock when they find she is a woman. How DARE she?! Only Alanna’s friends come to her rescue. Things more-or-less resolve themselves, but Alanna is leaving the court in part because there is lack of universal acceptance . What matters is that Pierce has shown us that you can be kick-ass, a warrior, girly, and wear a dress. You can do it all if you want to!

Sexual activity begins in this novel. While sex itself is never explicitly addressed, it’s certainly there between the lines. Obviously, both Prince Jonathan and King of Thieves George are both head-over-heels for this woman. As they should. . Suddenly declarations of love are being spouted, and Alanna will have none of it. After all:

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?

In all her kick-ass glory, Alanna more or less rolls her eyes, in-the-hand-ofthe-goddess-cover-1decides she will never wear a dress again, and walks away.

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.

5 Stars

8 Comments

  • Jasmine September 19, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Why does Alanna pretends to be a man? You must like to read middle grade books?

    • Jackie B September 19, 2016 at 10:10 am

      I do like reading middle grade, but this is just a phase I’ve been in lately for some reason! I didn’t even notice until you pointed that out. No wonder people have been asking me about the difference between YA and MG lately! Thanks for being so observant, Jasmine.

      I encourage you to check out my review of Alanna: The First Adventure. This is the second book in a quartet– Alanna wants to become a knight, but in this world only men can do so. So she is pretending to be a man all through her page and squire years. Her plan is that once she becomes a Knight she’ll stop being Alan and become Alanna to everyone. The first lady knight in over a century. 🙂

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel September 19, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Great review. Glad you really enjoyed the book. I love books with string characters. This reminds me of a social experimemt video on Youtube where boys and girls were asked to run/fight/ etc etc like a girl. It showed how different the responses were before and after puberty. And how at puberty we kind of drill in the notion that ‘to act like a girl’ is a bad or weak thing. You should watch it if you havent already. It was very thought provoking. Th young girls’ reaction to ‘act like a girl’ and the teenage girls’ reaction to ‘act like a girl’ are totally different

    • Jackie B September 19, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Thank you!
      I’ve seen that video and I completely agree. I know that the lack of diversity in books has been a hot topic lately, but I think the lack of diversity in stereotypical male/female roles is a critical component we aren’t talking about. It’s okay to be a cis-white-female who wants to be a knight, and we need more role models that way too. It’s definitely time to change the perception of what it means to “act like a girl”.
      Plus, this book was published in 1984. We’re still struggling with this idea? That’s just embarrassing.

  • Vanessa September 20, 2016 at 4:16 am

    Omigosh! That story sounds really promising. I’ll be checking it out now! Thanks for awesome review Jackie!

    • Jackie B September 20, 2016 at 9:17 am

      The Song of the Lioness is a great an empowering series! I definitely encourage you to check out any and all of Tamora Pierce’s books. 🙂 Thanks, Vanessa!

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