Monday, January 5, 2015

It's Ok To Be A Girl

One of the few good things about the holiday's being over is that I can get back to my normal reading pattern.  I always feel a bit nostalgic right after the holidays and since for once I didn't have a deadline looming over me, I picked up one of my favorite series by one of my favorite authors.  I read Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.  How did it hold up over the years?  I'll tell you, but first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Alanna and Thom are pre-teen twins with a crappy father (as all good MG/YA books start).  They both have the Gift, a form of magic certain people posses in the realm of Tortall.  To this end, Thom wants to become a mage, and Alanna wants to become a night, the problem being that females can't become knights, and their father insists that Thom go become a knight instead of a mage.  They decide to switch places and Thom goes on to the City of the Gods to become a mage ('cause both guys and gals can practice magic) and Alanna becomes Alan and signs up to be a Page at the court in Corus, the capital of Tortall.  Only Corum, Alanna's trusted friend and guardian knows her secret and helps her when he can.  Alanna works extremely hard to overcome her smallness and the beatings of a much larger bully.  In town one day Alanna (in the guise of Alan) meets George Cooper, the King of Thieves who takes her under his wing and teaches her how to fight.  Between this and all her extra work at her Page lessons, Alanna earns her place among her fellow Pages and Squires.  She
eventually befriends the Prince Jonathan, and her ability with the Gift is revealed when she uses it to heal him after an awful illness called the Sweating Sickness sweeps through the city, killing many.  It is thought that the illness was sent by a sorcerer, who may have targeted the royal family.  After saving the prince, he and Alanna, along with a few other guys get to be good enough friends that she introduces them to George, who in turn helps them by keeping an eye on the city.  Eventually Alanna gets older, and as it goes, hits puberty.  Since she has no mother, and not female to talk to, Alanna is understandably freaked out by her first period and goes to George's mother, a healer to find out what is what.  Mrs. Cooper explains the birds and the bees to her and gives her a charm against pregnancy and encourages her to be a girl when she can. She also let's George in on the fact that she is a girl.  The prince's cousin, Roger the Duke of Conte arrives to teach the pages/squire's with the Gift how to use it. A bunch of stuff happens (don't you love how I skip over all this stuff in every rambling :-) )   The bunch of them head off to hang out at Persopolis, an oasis city in the middle of the desert.  In site of the encampment is the Black City, an evil place that compels people to come and they are never seen again.  Roger, goad/tricks Jonathan into going to the city and Alanna follows him.  They confront an ancient evil called the Ysandir and defeat them using Alanna and the princes combined Gifts.  In the process, Prince Jonathan discovers that Alanna is really a girl.  He decides he is ok with this, agrees to keep it a secret and the book ends with him choosing her as his squire once he is knighted.
This is one of those books where a lot of stuff happens very quickly.  If I remember correctly just this book spans the course of at least 5 years and each page if packed full of stuff.  Most of the events are pretty simply described, with out a whole lot of detail or angst, and while this makes things a bit quick, it keeps the pace up.  This book, and series in general is pretty cool in that the main message is that it is ok to be yourself.  Alanna is hellbent on being a knight, even at the tender age of 11 and she thinks this means she pretty much has to turn herself into a boy.  While this is true to some degree, she learns that it does not have to be her whole life.  Through out the book, she is lucky enough to have several people encourage her to be who she wants to be, if that's a knight, great go for it, but don't let that completely squash your femininity if you don't want it to.  I really like the idea that it is ok to be whatever, a girl who likes to swing swords and wear a pretty pair of earrings.  A boy who wants a quieter life of study, but is still able to ride a horse like a pro.  Just because you like one thing, or are good at something, does not automatically mean the rest of your life has to follow suite.
 I also really like how hard Alanna has to work to achieve her goal.  Besides her Gift (which she is afraid of AND many other people also have), she is not all that special.  She is small so she has to work extra hard just to be as good as the other guys.  Through out the book (and the series) she makes no secret of the fact that there are some things she will probably never be good at.  The only real "convenient" part that bugs me a bit, is her ability to have people fall head over heels to help her out of most situations.  George Cooper, while a great character, for some reason decides to take the scrawny little Page under his wing even before he knows she is a girl, same with the Prince (though I guess saving his life helped with that).  It is a bit convenient for her to have a lot of support in a time and place where she should have very little.  As this is a reread, I always like to compare the first time I read it to subsequent rereads.  In this case, I still love the book, but found it to be a bit simpler then I remember.  The time frame in which it is written makes it go fast, and certain things go unexamined and stuff gets glossed over. I think it is a great first book in this series and is a great pace for a younger reader to really get into.  I love it for anybody who struggles with reconciling who they are with what they do, or what they like.  It has adventure, intrigue, swords and magic and it will always have a spot on my shelf.  I give it 7 out of 10 crystal swords.
What books do you feel like rereading this year?  Do you have changing feelings about books you reread?  What would a sword fighting tutu look like?

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