I have been working my way through Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books on audio in chronological order. I started with the Beka Cooper series and now we jump forward 400 years to the first books that were written in the series.
It is a jarring transition. I really loved the Beka Cooper series. Pierce is a much better writer when writing that series than when she wrote her first books. The Cooper series is also written for a much older audience and then Alanna is middle grade.
“From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.
And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.”
Ah, the old girl pretending to be a boy trope. Why does that always work? At least Pierce gives more thought to the practicalities of it. She considers how to deal with menstruation and physical maturity. I wasn’t a fan of Alanna’s constant harping on how much she hates being female. I get that it limits her options in her society but it got to be a little too much. Happily she grows out of it in the series.
She also has a magical cat named Faithful. He is also a character in the Beka Cooper series – because magic, that’s how. He is so much more powerful in the Cooper series and is a more integral part of the story that it was weird to see him as a much more minor character here.
“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!”
In this book we cover the rest of Alanna’s teenage years and becoming a knight. Everyone finds out she is female. There’s a love triangle for some reason. I didn’t get it. I’m not sure why the one guy even likes her but he goes around declaring undying love to her. She’s with the other one because he’s convenient. They live in the same rooms. There’s a bad guy too but he sort of seems like an afterthought in the series. It is mostly about Alanna’s life.
Alanna and Jonathan also go off and save a desert tribe from some creatures that have been a problem for them for hundreds of years because they are special little magical teenagers who can fix everything.
“Newly knighted, Alanna of Trebond seeks adventure in the vast desert of Tortall. Captured by fierce desert dwellers, she is forced to prove herself in a duel to the death — either she will be killed or she will be inducted into the tribe. Although she triumphs, dire challenges lie ahead. As her mythic fate would have it, Alanna soon becomes the tribe’s first female shaman — despite the desert dwellers’ grave fear of the foreign woman warrior. Alanna must fight to change the ancient tribal customs of the desert tribes — for their sake and for the sake of all Tortall.”
Ok, so Alanna goes wandering off to prove herself. She manages to get into trouble with the same tribe that she helped in the last book. And then, cue the white savior trope, she manages to become a shaman in the tribe and liberate the girls who want to study magic. I mean really, how have these poor people survived all these years without a teenage white girl telling them the correct way to live? Soon both of her love interests start showing up randomly. I thought this was a far away place with minimal contact with outsiders but these guys are treating it like a quick trip down to the corner market to pick up some milk. To make it even better, ol’ Prince Jonathan ends up as the mythical center of the entire tribe because why turn your civilization over to one white teenager when you can have two?
“After achieving her dream of becoming the first female knight, Alanna sets out to find the Dominion Jewel, a legendary gem which possesses limitless power for good. But the evil Duke Roger has returned from the dead to wreak havoc on the kingdom, and only Alanna has the power to prevent utter destruction.”
You know what is a good idea? Let’s go looking for a powerful magical artifact that has been hidden for centuries because it made rulers too powerful and give it to our ruler. That’ll work out just fine! Oh, it belongs to someone else? No worries. It is totally ok to steal it and bring it to our land for our use because we are GOOD, don’t you know? No ethical issues there.
Alanna finally finds her one suitor another wife and then she goes off with the other one. She doesn’t seem to love him all that much but he’s been hanging about so she goes with him.
Obviously I had some problems with parts of these books. Some of it is relying too much on classic fantasy tropes. This was the first series and Pierce’s writing has branched out since then. It was also written for a young audience who might not notice a lot of the things that bothered me. Overall, it is a good story that entertained me on audio.
These are quick on audio. Most were 5-7 hours. It was a Full Cast Audio production so there was a new voice for every character. I had a hard time with the narrator’s phrasing. It was like she was putting the emphasis on odd words in each sentence. It wasn’t until the end of all four books that I realized that the author was the narrator. I guess that gives her the right to emphasize however she wants.