Alanna by Tamora Pierce

Posted June 23, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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Alanna: The First Adventure

Alanna: The First Adventure

by Tamora Pierce

Series: Song of the Lioness #1
Publisher: Atheneum Books on September 1, 1983
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Magic
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Becoming a legend is not easy, as young Alanna of Trebond discovers when she disguises herself as a boy and begins training to be a knight. Alanna's skills and stubbornness help her befriend Prince Jonathan and alienate his evil uncle, Duke Roger. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, this book is a rousing introduction to the intensely satisfying story of Alanna.

 

This book is my everything.

Which is kinda funny, actually, because if they average reader picked it up, they’d be totally confused by that statement.  Why?, they would ask, side-eyeing the cartoony mass market paperback cover and skimming over eh decidedly simple writing.  Alanna is a YA novel with a strong female protagonist breaking gender norms in 1983, back when the YA genre didn’t really exist and strong female protagonists didn’t really exist and breaking gender norms in fantasy REALLY didn’t exist, and my little self read this in 1998 when a lot of these things still didn’t exist, and it was everything.

Now.  If I were to read this for the first time in 2020, would I be so enamored?  Probably not.  The writing is very simple, coming off more like a middle grade… ‘tween, if you’re generous.  I think these days both The Song of the Lioness and The Immortals series are best left to MG readers (and those who read MG), and those with a deep, welling love from nostalgia… but there’s so much more Tamora Pierce out there to devour.

Alanna though.  I have always loved her stubborn determination.  She didn’t transform from a sly little caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly – Alanna had the capacity for greatness from page one and the reader knows it.  It is one of the things that makes her such a compelling character, and she’s not alone.  Although there’s a delightful case of sub-characters, Jonathan has always been a personal favorite.  I enjoy his calm approach to most things, and the way that, even as a prince, he’s expected to go through certain trials and expectations just like any other noble boy.  While I always love a royalty-in-disguise trope, and it’s there to some extent, I liked that Jon is down-to-earth about everything.  It feed to his growth later in this series, as well as the extended Tortall world.  Two good characters, Alanna and Prince Jonathan.

The world building here is fairly limited, again an testament to the writing style in Tamora Pierce’s early books.  There’s none of that magical aesthetic I’ve come to love in more modern fantasy tales.  These books… if you don’t like the protagonist, they won’t compel you, because they’re not offering a lot else.  The individual book plots are abrupt and predictable, the magic system only brushed upon (a lot more is explained in later books and series, but a first time reader wouldn’t know that), the style is not immersive.  Basically, you need to like Alanna to enjoy Alanna, and if you’re not immediately interested in her cleverness and potential… this book will not entice you.

So objectively, as a book in the YA genre… Alanna isn’t that impressive.  It loses point for writing style, world building, and plot.  But I still love it, because not only did I grow up in this world, but because I know there so much more.

Separate, important items of note

Okay, take a seat and bear with me here.  I want to address racism first – this book is not all-out racist.  Tamora Pierce, particularly in her early novels, has a habit of appropriating POC characters, and that’s true of the Bahzir.  We only meet them briefly, but it would be remiss not to mention how stereotyped their way of life is.  What interesting to me about them, reading this with an objective eye, is the divide of behavior between the old and young characters.  I do believe Pierce is trying to address racism in the society she’s created, particularly when Alanna and John speak to the Bahzir and Jon asks to educate himself further.  Feels a lot like what’s happening today, with everyone rushing out educate themselves on racism and do better.  So while Pierce may not always use her POC characters in the best manner (and she herself has grown as a person and will attest to that, especially in recent years) I do feel like there’s some level of addressing here.  Additionally, I don’t personally see her as problematic in this way as she’s actively trying to improve herself and support Black artists.

The other thing I want to talk about real quick is possibly perceived transphobia/sex assignment.  Alanna’s pretty vocal about her hate of being a girl as she matures in about the middle of the book and her breasts start to grow and she gets her first period.  Reading this years later, objectively, can see undercurrents of these other older characters forcing Alanna to accept her assigned gender, and this can definitely be perceived as a political message.  My personal takeaway from these scenes has always been Alanna’s exasperation on the gender roles in her society and how her female biology could prevent her from accomplishing her goals; however, I can see how it could also be read as her frustration with her own gender because she feels as though she shouldn’t be that gender.  I don’t think the writing is nuanced enough to  stamp it for certain in either direction, so I do want to make aware that there are a few quick scenes in the middle of the book where adult figures are telling Alanna to accept her sex that could be harmful to trans readers.  As with the note on racism above, I want to note that while this is not the prettiest scene, I don’t believe Tamora Pierce as a person has been problematic in this way, and she has in fact reached out to the trans community in light of recent events.

Still!  I wouldn’t be a good book blogger if I didn’t point out these offenses and try to warn readers who may be harmed by them, so do take note of the above-mentioned undercurrents and scenes and read wisely.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

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ALanna Stays on the Shelf

Honestly, unless this turned out to be some monstrosity I completely misremembered from my childhood, Alanna was never going to be donated.  Tamora Pierce’s books are so close to my heart.  Alanna, in particularly, is important because this is the book that I credit with changing my whole world.  It brought me into reading, reading fantasy, seeing that women could be more than wives and mothers, and into wanting to create incredible worlds of my own.

So yeah.

Alanna‘s not going anywhere.

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What book changed your world?  As I said in the GBC bit above, Alanna was so formative for me as a child.  I know most readers have a book, series, or author they can say that about… I’d love to hear about yours in the comments!

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