Given the kinds of books I tend to like – fantasy, female leads, high fantasy, butt-kicking girls, YA, children’s, middle grade, and a rollicking good ride – it was almost inevitable that I would come to Tamora Pierce eventually. Never having read anything of hers is a lot like the fact that I’ve never read anything by Terry Pratchett. It’s a gaping hole in my literary knowledge that I never seem to have gotten around to filling.
But no longer! This month, I decided I was going to read a Tamora Pierce novel, and where better to start than with Alanna: The First Adventure?
From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.
And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.
But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.
Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins – one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.
There were certainly a lot in this book that I liked. Girl pretending to be a boy, struggling with self-doubt, magic, power, a school story, and a mysterious evil presence lurking in the background. Plus honest and open mentions of periods and puberty, and that incessantly difficult monthly visitor that a lot of girls resent. All very good things, and especially considering this was published in 1983, way ahead of the curve.
Alanna: The First Adventure was a quick and easy read, with enough world-building to interest me, but it had some serious weaknesses as well. With a cast that was overwhelmingly male, even the female lead doesn’t really score enough points for diversity in this one. The plot didn’t actually get going until the last two or three chapters, with the first eighty percent of the book covering four – or is it five? – years of Alanna’s schooling. As well as that, Thom, who seemed to be introduced as a main character in the first chapter, suddenly faded into the background immediately, and nothing was mentioned of the fact that Alanna lost the twin she had spent the first ten years of her life being incredibly close to.
It wasn’t perfect, this book, far from it. As an opener to a series, it’s clear that there’s a lot of promise there, and I will continue with the quartet, but it’s certainly not a standalone book, and I felt like it left too many things to be expanded and explained in later books. Even the title, which flags it as ‘The First Adventure’ doesn’t stand up on its own, merely setting it up as the prelude to the actual story that’s yet to come.
I will still read them, though, because I’m a sucker for seeing how a story turns out. Plus, I romped through this first Song of the Lioness book in only a day, so the others should be similarly quick.