Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Song of the Lioness #1
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: High Fantasy
Alan of Trebond, the best warrior in the palace, is harboring a big secret: he is really a she - Alanna. She's taken her twin brother's place in the castle to train to be a knight and has found companionship with both the Rogue of the city and the prince himself. But when her prince is felled by an illness, Alanna has no choice but to use her healing magic - even if it means ruining her career and revealing to the entire realm of Tortall her true nature.
This is actually a re-read for me. I picked up Alanna when I first dared to enter the Teen room in my library so many years ago. I read Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic Series first, and because I loved it so much I immediately began devouring every single thing that Ms. Pierce ever wrote. Because I read it first, the Circle of Magic is still my favorite of her series, but for most fans Alanna and the Song of the Lioness Quartet is where it's at. The realm of Tortall is vivid and wonderful, and the two following quartets, couplet, and trilogy that also exist in this world make for a really 3-D world that feels extremely real. You could spend a lot of time with this world, and after reading Alanna, you will definitely want to.
Alanna starts off when Alanna and her twin brother Thom are 11. They are about to be sent to places that neither of them want to be. For Thom, who hates sword work, archery, wrestling and all forms of "knightly" activities, being sent to gain his shield is the worst possible punishment, especially when he is already one of the best sorcerers in his village. Alanna would rather die than go live in the convents to the north and learn to be a lady, so what do they do? Switch places of course! I love seeing a good switcheroo! Also twins. Maybe it comes from being one myself, but I seem to keep a lot of books and series that have twin protagonists on my keeper shelf. Anyways...The twins pull it off with help from their nursemaid and Thom heads off to the Order where he can learn to control his magic and Alanna leaves for the capital so she can train to become a knight. I thought this part was well executed. A lot of times the switch can be unbelievable, especially boy-girl switches, but Tamora covers all the bases so you really believe that Alanna and Thom can pull it off. Alanna-now known as Alan, has to train extra hard to defeat the older and more experienced boys, but she puts in the hours and it really works
Alanna is an amazingly strong female character. She fights for what she believes in and other than the huge matter of lying about her sex, she is incredibly honest. She's stubborn, has spunk, and (perhaps best of all) tends to doubt herself. It is totally understandable that a young girl in such a stressful situation wouldn't be completely sure of herself. I was glad that Alanna wasn't the type of strong female character that has become the norm. Don't get me wrong, I love the snarky, witty, bad-ass heroines that run rampant in adult novels, but it's nice to see that they don't start off that way. They have moments of painful self doubt and times when their self-esteem needs to be built up by friends and lovers. Alanna is very tomboyish, but also has typical girly reactions to things(like the color of her lord's nightdresses) that it leaves the other boys scratching their heads and me laughing out loud. I like that she isn't completely de-feminized. She maintains the identity of a girl of her age, which if you think about it, isn't typically girly. I was still catching bugs and shooting Nerf guns at my brother at that age...the girly stiletto wearing, hair coloring, pink lover didn't break out until high school.
Speaking of age, I really liked that things stayed age specific. A lot of the times these little kids and young teenagers have relationships that are WAY too deep and intense for their ages. I don't mean 17 year olds, because I feel like at that age you are relatively capable of falling in love, but I've seen these kids of 13 and 14 falling in luuurrveee and promising to be together forever and it's kind of like...bleeehhhh....gross. Alanna doesn't show a hint of romantic interest in the boys around her. And why should she? Thoughts like that could get her real sex found out, and even if it wasn't, what would all the other nights think when Alan the Knight went to cuddle with another Knight? The only thing that exists between the characters at this point is friendship, brotherly love, and extreme loyalty. You can see the threads of possible relationships with both Prince Johnathan and George Cooper though. I love how George was the first one in the castle that Alanna trusted with her secret. It made him rise a lot in my esteem, though he already was pretty high up in my affections, the thieving, joking, devilish rascal!
I loved the combination of magic and religion in this book. The gods are present and they are extremely active in their people's lives, particularly those they have Gifted with the Sight or other Gifts. It was really cool to see a society where religion and magic were in harmony with one another instead of sparking battles and murder. Typically the church or religion of any given time condemns those that practice magic and it makes a lot of issues. It was cool to see how the practices and rituals of the religion coincide with the magical rituals and how priestesses and priests were usually blessed with magic. The gods were kind of vague, but you do get glimpses at a whole pantheon of interesting possible characters. I already know where the story leads, but if I didn't I would wonder about the title of the next book...In the Hands of the Goddess...