First Test by Tamora Pierce
Digital Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne Flagler
Published by Random House Children's Books on May 23rd 2000
Series: Protector of the Small #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Magic, Young Adult
Length: 240 pages or 5 hours, 46 minutes
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In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year. It is a trial period that no male page has ever had to endure and one that separates the good natured Kel even more from her fellow trainees during the tough first year. But Kel Is not a girl to underestimate, as everyone is about to find out...
Keladry, I have been missing you all my life.
First Test is about Kel of Mindelan, the first girl to apply for pageship since Alanna the Lioness became the first lady knight. Kel is allowed to enter the program on a one year probation to prove herself – not as an individual, but to prove that girls can do whatever boys do. She trains hard, works hard, and suffers hazing just like the boys – but she is not without her allies.
I cannot believe I waited twenty years to read this book. Yes, twenty. My first Tamora Pierce book was Wild Magic when I was eight, and I’ve read all Pierce’s other Tortall books. I have Tempests and Slaughter pre-ordered. I’ve read quite a few of her Emelan books as well (and I own all of them). I’ve been actively avoiding The Protector of the Small for years, figuring Alanna, Aly, and Daine were good enough… and I have fooled myself. First Test far surpasses both Alanna and Wild Magic.
The prejudice Kel faces as a girl in a boy’s club is so much different than Alanna’s experience. Kids can be cruel. But it’s not just the kids – many of her own teachers don’t believe a girl belongs in knighthood training, and are sure the Lioness cheated with her magical abilities. Watching Kel react to this and her inner monologue as well as her incredible discipline, is wonderful.
Additionally, Pierce has added a whole new layer of culture to Tortall. Kel was raised among the Yamani as an ambassador’s daughter. These islanders believe in a culture of deep respect and obedience, reminiscent of ancient Japanese culture. It’s an interesting mix with the brutish medieval culture at the palace, but it’s also refreshing. And also proof that Pierce is a master worldbuilder.
I love, love, loved this book. Kel’s a deeper character than the other girls – driven by a sense of virtue rather than her passions – but we still get all the delights of the palace. There are cameos by Daine, Numair, Alanna, and King Jonathan as well as others. The side characters are fantastic (I love Neal). There’s nothing to dislike about this book and my new goal in life is to get my friends’ daughter to read it. Keladry is an amazing role model for young girls.
Except for the picking fights bit? But she does it for all the right reasons.