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Song of the Lioness I: Alanna—The First Adventure

by Tamora Pierce(Simon Pulse, 1983)

Girl, boy or dancing bear, you are the finest page—the finest squire-to-be—in court.

Alanna: The First Adventure is book one of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet about Alanna the Lioness, also the very first set in her Tortall universe. It is not just a book about knights and kings, wars and enemies, chivalry and magic, but of a young girl growing up and following her dream.

Eleven-year-old Alanna of Trebond wants to be a knight. To be a warrior and go off and have great adventures. Unfortunately for her, it has been over a hundred years since the last female knight, and nobly born girls are no longer given the option of training as warriors. But young Alanna is not one to give up so easily. Her father, Lord Alan of Trebond, is too busy with his books and scrolls to give much attention to his motherless children—Alanna and her twin brother Thom. As things stand, he has arranged for Thom to go the king’s palace to be a page and train as a knight, and Alanna to the convent to learn magic and how to be a lady.

As much as Alanna wants to be a knight, her brother wants to be sorcerer. He hates fighting and craves the power his magic might bring to him. Hence, they do the only sensible thing—exchange places. Disguised as a boy—Alan of Trebond—Alanna’s romanticized notions of being a page and training to be a warrior soon take a severe battering. Being a knight in training is hard, and it is harder if you are the smallest ‘boy’ in the group.

But, being quick and intelligent, Alanna soon finds her feet. Learning to ride properly, fence, wrestle, tilt and all the rest, go hand in hand with history and mathematics, and even learning how to conduct oneself according to the Code of Chivalry. Alanna makes friends quickly—though she makes enemies just as quickly. Prince Jonathan, the heir of the kingdom, becomes one of her closest friends, as does the big Raoul, not to mention the thief ‘lord’ George Cooper.

Those who have read the Protector of the Small quartet where another girl, Keladry of Mindelan, comes to the palace as a page—this time openly—will be delighted to find many of the memorable characters in the books as adolescents in Alanna. Squire Raoul is later Sir Raoul, Keladry’s knight master. Prince Jonathan is, of course, later King Jonathan, father of Roald, Kel’s close friend. Duke Baird’s son Neal is Kel’s best friend. And Sir Gareth of Naxen is probably the younger one—Alanna and Raoul’s friend who Kel will look up to. Though, of course, if one has read the Keladry books, there are a number of spoilers, not that they actually ‘spoil’ the enjoyment.

For Alanna, hiding the fact that she is a girl is very difficult. Whereas Keladry did not have to pretend to be a boy, she would have managed to do so easily. Though Alanna does not have the advantage of Keladry’s muscular, mountainous build, unlike her, she does have her Gift of magic.

Pierce writes about knights and chivalry, but don’t just go looking for heroic fiction. Rather, this is heroic fantasy—not solely about war and politics and tactics, but with a fair bit of magic and the supernatural thrown it. It is just as much about coming of age, friendship, loyalty, love, betrayal, treachery and more. All of Pierce’s young knights fight not just their king’s enemies, but also the trials of adolescence.

Tamora Pierce weaves a delightful story in Alanna, with an ease of narration that sees you through the book in double-quick time. It is funny and touching at the same time, and the characters very believable. It is very difficult not to like the fiery Alanna, the serious Jonathan, the big Raoul, the easy-going George, the blunt Coram and the drunk Sir Myles.

RATING: 8/10
Other books in the series:

Song of the Lioness II: In the Hand of the Goddess
Song of the Lioness III: Woman Who Rides Like a Man
Song of the Lioness IV: Lioness Rampant