Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Breaking the gender barrier

Ten-year-old Keladry of Mindelan is the first female to take advantage of the king's decree that permits girls to train to be knights in the kingdom of Tortall. The King's Own warrior, Alanna, followed that training in the Lioness books, but she did so disguised as a boy.

The very old-fashioned Lord Wyldon, who is in charge of page training, thinks that girls are unsuited to be warriors; the king needs Lord Wyldon's support. When Lord Wyldon agrees to take on Kel as a page, he does so with one stipulation: that she be given a year of probation. If she does not pass, she must go home. Alanna is incensed when she hears this - and not only that, but Lord Wyldon insists that Alanna keep her distance from Keladry, so no one will say she succeeded only with Alanna's help.

Keladry encounters a lot of hostility when she arrives at the castle, and she is very much on her own. Luckily her childhood was spent among the Yamani, a culture that prizes stoicism as well as defensive fighting skills among men and women, and these values and skills give Kel strength as she endures insults, ostracism and hazing.

Kel is able to endure all kinds of harrassment, but not when she witnesses it happening to others. From the very beginning of the book, Kel shows herself as someone willing to risk her own safety for others - from rescuing kittens from a hideous spidren (an enormous spiderlike creature with a human head and horrible appetite) to standing up to bullies among the other pages. Her kind heart and stubborn refusal to give up eventually win her friends and supporters from among the other pages, but there are those who will sabotage everything she does in order to get her to give up and leave protecting the kingdom to the boys.

Kel is an admirable character, with believable strengths and weaknesses, and readers will be rooting for her throughout the novel. Bernadette Dunne's narration brings the story to life, particularly Keladry's internal discourse and the dialog among the characters. Although this is the one of several series Tamora Pierce has set in the fantastical medieval kingdom of Tortall, it is not necessary to read the others in order to enjoy this one. In fact, my library shelves this series with the chapter books for ages 9-12, but the Alanna books are in the teen section - so this series would be a good one for younger readers to begin with. I enjoyed the audiobook very much and intend to listen to the remaining books in audio as well.

Books in the Protector of the Small series:
  1. First Test
  2. Page
  3. Squire
  4. Lady Knight

First Test (#1 in the Protector of the Small series) by Tamora Pierce; read by Bernadette Dunne (Listening Library, 2007)

Other blog reviews:
All Booked Up
Bluestocking
Shimmerin Angel

14 comments:

  1. This sounds quite fun. I haven't read anything by the author, but the name is definitely familiar. Will see if this is in my local library when I go on Saturday.

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  2. I have been enjoying Tamora Pierce's books for years - I think you'll have fun with them. Last year I listened to the two Trickster books (Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen) - they are for a teen audience, and I think are my favorites of them all - so far. I'm in the middle of the second book to the Keladry series, and I'm enjoying it, too.

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  3. Would you suggest starting with Alanna books before reading this one? In order to get some idea of the universe it's set in I mean...

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  4. Cath - I think I would do the Alanna books first, and then the Immortals series, and then this one. I think the Trickster ones come much later, because their heroine is Alanna's daughter!

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  5. Ah. Good to know that they're related to the trickster books. I was thinking that her publisher must be in need of a new graphic designer, if not! :)

    These definitely look like a fantastic series!

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  6. Ha! That's funny - you are right! The girl on the cover of this one has a young Buffy look, to me.

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  7. It sounds like a cool story, and also one that deals with some very interesting questions.

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  8. It is, and I'm in the middle of the second one - things are becoming more complicated for Kel as she grows up. She's 10 in the first one, and she's now 12, so being the only girl among a bunch of boy pages is gaining a different sort of angle from the first one. I'm definitely hooked on Kel's story!

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  9. Thanks for the info, Darla, I'm going to start looking for that first series soon.

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  10. Great - I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of them!

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  11. It's a nice idea that women could be knights back when knights protected the kingdom but I think they probably would have been killed first. Sounds like an interesting series though!

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  12. Ladytink - You might change your mind once you get to know Keladry! :-)

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  13. I love women who can kick ass so I should definitely start this series sooner or later!

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  14. Valentina, then you will definitely enjoy Tamora Pierce's heroines!

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