Despite not being all that impressed with Alanna: The First Adventure, I had decided to commit to the entire quartet, so I moved on to the second of Alanna’s adventures – In The Hand Of The Goddess. While it had overcome some of the infuriating aspects of the first book, it still didn’t really feel like it was telling a whole story so much as part of a story, and I was left largely unimpressed by the end.
Disguised as a boy, Alanna of Trebond becomes a squire, to none other than the prince of the realm. But Prince Jonathan is much more to Alanna; he is her ally, her best friend, and one of the few who knows that she’s really a girl. Now it will take all of Alanna’s awesome skill, strength, and growing magical powers to protect him from the mysterious evil sorcerer who is bent on his destruction, and hers!
Here continues the story of Alanna, a young woman bound for glory who is willing to fight against enormous odds for what she believes in.
One good thing I can say about In the Hand of the Goddess – it was a super-quick read. At only 264 pages in the mass-market paperback, I had it finished within a day, and it kept rolling along nicely the entire time, so that’s something to its advantage.
Other than that, though, while this really seemed like the kind of book I should like – butt-kicking heroine! Woman disguised as man! Knightly training! Casual mention of menstrual cycles, preventing pregnancy, and sex positivity! – I was left kind of cold by the whole thing.
When starting the book, I thought I had accidentally picked up the wrong one, as the first pages dump a huge amount of information on the reader, including the death of Alanna’s father and return of her friend/protector Coram to run the family estate. On checking, though, it seems like this infodump was actually how the book is supposed to begin, so that’s something I was decidedly unimpressed with.
Alanna, at this point, is a bit of Mary-Sue, to be honest. She’s only a squire, but she’s able to defeat a fully-grown knight in single combat. She’s got purple eyes and is super special, and has a cat with matching purple eyes that – oh – she can talk to. She needs to learn to love, so she has two eligible bachelors each pledging to wait for her until she’s ready. To be honest, by midway through the book, I was rolling my eyes at how well everything seemed to be going for her. Even the big reveal of her actual gender, near the end of this book, was taken well by all her friends, without so much as a raised eyebrow at the fact that she lied to them for eight years.
This book jumped rapidly through Alanna’s teenage years, starting with a twelve (?) year old and running quickly through her adolescence all the way up to seventeen. The rapid change in age made it difficult to reconcile the mental image of Alanna as a child with her actions in the latter half of the book with regard to relationships, as the reader, I felt, wasn’t really given a chance to reframe her as an adult with adult desires.
My other issue with this book is that it doesn’t really know what age of reader it’s pitched towards. Being released in 1984, it largely predates the emergence of YA as a genre, but it’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s not an adult book either, and it suffers somewhat from inconsistencies in tone, especially as Alanna ages.
There was lots of positive things in this book, which I enjoyed, from the magic system to the school-type atmosphere, but I feel like a lot of potential is wasted in not knowing what this book is doing or where it’s going. Even the big bad who has loomed over the last two books is not all that intimidating by the climax.
I’ll keep going, because I hate to leave a series unfinished, but I’m really failing to see what the appeal of The Song of the Lioness is. I’m hoping the third and fourth books, now that Alanna is an adult, will have a bit more consistency, and will showcase the clearly excellent writing skills that Pierce possesses.