Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness Quartet) Book Review

Review by: dancingonrain.

Alanna is a ten-year old girl who wants nothing more than to avoid going to a convent to learn to be a lady.  She wants to become a knight.  Her twin brother Thom wants to become a sorcerer more than anything, not a knight.  Their negligent father would not give them what they wanted even if they asked, so together Alanna and Thom hatch a plan with the village healer, Maude, where Thom will go to train to be a sorcerer and Alanna will disguise herself as a boy to become a knight.  She soon discovers that she doesn’t know as much as she thought she did and was tempted to quit for a few times, but through persistence and determination, she accomplishes more than she thought she could.

The Song of The Lioness Quartet series was one of my favorites when I was a child.  I’ve read it over a few times since then and sometimes I’ve enjoyed it and other times not as much.  I think I’ve discovered that I tend to like the book depending on where I am in my life at the moment and right now I like it.

I do remember that I enjoyed the plot of the Song of the Lioness Quartet series: Alanna, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant, but I think I liked the main protagonist, Kel, from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small Quartet (First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight) better.

While I do like Alanna’s determination, I felt that a lot of the times she was a Mary Sue character to some extent.  Yes, she had her flaws and struggles so we know she wasn’t perfect.  She had to succeed through hard work, but many of the pages didn’t know how to read when they first got there.  She did.  While many of the other pages had just begun to learn some of the tactics and knowledge of knighthood, she came there already knowing a good amount.  The book mentions that she had trained a little with her brother years before they had been sent off to their destinations.  As the story unfolds we see less and less of that Mary Sue-esque factor and I hope that continues because perfect and flawless characters, for me, are unrelatable and boring to read regardless of gender.

There were other times where other characters would tell us how amazing she was (or he, to their knowledge), but I don’t want to be told that someone is amazing, I want to be shown the how and the why.  One thing that has always bugged me is that some female characters have other characters talk about her like: oh she’s so great.  Or oh she’s so good.  And so on.  It’s like the writers want you to like this character so much, that they have to shove the idea of how amazing she is in your face.  I don’t like that.  I’d rather watch her character and her actions unfold and then make up my mind about that character through what the writers/author show us about her—how she interacts with others, how she treats others, etc.

While I know the story grows and gets better in the other three books following this one, some of the prose didn’t connect with me like when it did when I was a child.  There is a good part of time skips and jumps through summary and telling rather than showing.  There was one epidemic of a dark magic sweating sickness where one of Alanna’s (or Alan’s, her chosen male name) friends dies from the sickness.  We had never really heard that much of Francis until then and then, in a small paragraph, we’re told Alanna was good friends with him.  But because I didn’t read or see her interact with him that much up until then, I didn’t really feel sad like she did that he’d died, because a connection to him hadn’t been established with me.  I realize that this book is meant for a younger age and so Pierce probably didn’t want to make the book too long, but if I had seen more scenes with Alanna interacting with a few characters, none of which really included Francis, then I may have felt sadder when Francis had died.

But overall, I enjoyed the book and since I’ve read the series before, I know it gets better.  For example, a magical cat becomes her ally and friend and who doesn’t want a magic cat?  (I’m ignoring you if you don’t want a magical kitten ;D ).