Note: The Book Stop is officially on vacation. So I pulled an older review I never got around to posting. Enjoy!
I’ve been wanting to read something by Tamora Pierce for a long time, since I enjoy young adult fantasy and this book is considered one of the best. However, I think as with most series, the first book is a little more set-up and I expect the books get better as you go.
This book was also a little “younger” than I anticipated. I was hoping for something with the complexity of Sabriel, but this was a lot more basic. I wouldn’t call Alanna a young adult book, I’d say it’s perfect for the fourth-fifth grade range.
The book is set in a standard medieval fantasy world. Alanna and her twin brother Thom are thirteen and being shipped off to school. Thom is off to the knights academy, and Alanna is off to the convent. However, Thom wants to study sorcery and Alanna wants to fight, so they switch places. Alanna disguises herself as Alan and somehow fools everyone around her into thinking she’s a boy.
What’s good about the book – Alanna is good at a lot of things but she also has to work really hard to succeed in knights’ training. This isn’t one of those stories where everything comes easily to the magical hero or heroine. Alanna has to spend her nights training in swordsmanship and during the day has to fight the school bully. She does, however, have a gift for healing and is clearly destined to become some higher power.
Alanna lives in a time where there used to be female warriors, and a female knight is unexpected but not as ridiculous as it might seem. The interesting thing about the book is that Alanna has to come to terms with her own identity. She’s sure if her friends discover she’s a girl they will hate her. She cringes every time people look at her closely and it’s clear she can’t keep up the deception for long, if only for her own sanity. It’s this extra layer of complexity that makes the book better than most.
I think this book might be one I needed to have read as a girl, sort of like Anne of Green Gables. There are a lot of young adult books that are just as good when read by adults, but this wasn’t one of them. If I was a girl I’m sure I would have loved Alanna; in fact I remember very few great heroines when I was young and reading fantasy. If you’re looking for good fiction for a daughter or niece, this is a good pick, and I’m guessing the series gets even better as it goes.
I know Tamora Pierce has a lot of fans out there, so I’ll ask, is this the right place to start? Should I keep reading or go to one of her series for older readers? Similarly, the next author I need to read is Diana Wynne Jones — any recommendations for her?
I think the Alanna series overall is young adult, as it grows with Alanna herself. So at first while Alanna is a child, it’s a little more childish (and also as Pierce’s first work, it’s written with the least maturity), but the writing style grows nicely as the series progresses. In the Hand of the Goddess is certainly a strong sequel (probably Pierce’s best book overall); I’d recommend sticking with it.
As for Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve only read her Crestomanci books (which are delightful childish and absolute good fun – definitely recommended) and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland which is a surprisingly entertaining “travel guide” satire of most fantasy books, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a good starting point.
(I don’t know if any of this is still relevant, but here it is anyways!)
Thanks, I appreciate your input! I figured this series might be a little like Harry Potter, which grows as he does (I almost stopped at book 1 with that series too).