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:
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