Book Recommendation: Alanna the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Continuing our Perth Supanova coverage this year, I thought I’d drop in a quick book recommendation for one of the attending authors and one of my favourite writes of all time: Tamora Pierce!
She was present at the convention for a couple of awesome writer panels, and was signing books all weekend, and the length of the lines for her autograph were a huge testament to her skill as a writer. She is credited as one of the most influential authors in the young adult fantasy genre, crafting and publishing powerful, varied and interesting female protagonists who have been inspiring young girls for several generations now.
Her first book was published in 1983, titled Alanna: The First Adventure, and it was the beginning of the Song of the Lioness Quartet and the first book in a world that now has nearly twenty books telling its stories. This week, I read it again (for something like the fifth time), and I figured I should share my thoughts with you all.
Alanna: The First Adventure, tells the story of Alanna, a young girl from a borderland fief and minor noble family in the kingdom of Tortall. Alanna is being sent off to a convent to learn to be a lady, only… she doesn’t want to be a lady, she wants to learn to fight! But Alanna knows that girls can’t be knights. It’s the law. So she hatches a daring plan to disguise herself as a boy and head to the royal palace to train as a knight. If she can keep her secret until she turns eighteen, she’ll have earned her shield, and no one will be able to take it from her.
This is the first of four books in Alanna’s story, and covers her first few years as a knight-in-training in the royal palace. She makes friends, she learns to use magic and weapons, and she works harder than any boy there, to prove that she can be a warrior. Throughout the book, Alanna faces mortal danger and learns to accept who she is and use that to her advantage.
Alanna’s journey is rife with difficulties, from older bullies, to being the smallest of all the other boys in training, to never being able to swim with the other boys for fear of discovery. She faces the challenges of learning new skills that she doesn’t have a talent for, struggling to keep up with her homework, learning to trust and rely on her friends, and finding that other people will accept her for who she is if she only dares to let them get to know her. Alanna’s struggles are our own, and she has those struggles against the very interesting backdrop of court life in a magical realm. Hot-tempered, stubborn and possessing a true difficulty when trying to understand other people, Alanna makes for a powerful and inspiring heroine, who goes against everything her society has told her she can do, to achieve what she wants to achieve in life.
Despite defeating a very old and powerful enemy at the end of the novel, Alanna finds that she feels there’s a more devious threat to come, and it leaves you wanting to know more, and wanting to know Alanna more! And I very much enjoy how the book ends, not with “The End”, but with “The Beginning”, because that’s exactly what this book is. The beginning of an astounding first adventure in a wonderful world full of great characters, great danger, and great magic. It’s a quick read, aimed at young adult girls, but I genuinely believe that just about anyone could pick up a Tamora Pierce book and fall in love with her stories in a flash.
All through high school, I grew up reading and re-reading these books, and they were so inspiring. Alanna set her mind to what she wanted, and she did it, despite every assurance from her society that she could not achieve her goal. She’s an amazing role model as a successful and strong woman, and a deeply interesting, compelling character. Her adventures continue in her next book, In the Hand of the Goddess, and the rest of the series goes on to detail Alanna’s battles, romantic entanglements, and her journey towards becoming and knight and proving that women can be warriors, that they can be strong, they can be powerful, and they can be a force to be reckoned with. And they can make their society sit up and take notice of their success.