Song of the Lioness III: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
by Tamora Pierce (Simon Pulse, 1986)
It must be difficult to sustain almost 300 pages without a central plot, and it says a lot about the characters Tamora Pierce has created that Women Who Rides Like a Man rolls effortlessly on for the most part, and we are more interested in what happens to them rather than the bigger picture. Sir (!) Alanna, the first female knight of Tortall, had ridden off with her man-at-arms, Coram, looking for adventure at the end of book two. When book three picks up the story, her wish comes true. Alanna and Coram are attacked by desert hillmen and then captured by a Bazhir tribe going by the name of Bloody Hawk.
Alanna’s life is spared by the desert dwellers, and she is inducted into the Bloody Hawk. Soon she finds herself as the tribe’s shaman; in fact, the first woman shaman of the Bazhir. The Bazhir and Alanna teach each other a lot of things about their respective ways of life. It is an interesting exchange indeed. And as a shaman, the knight also comes to terms with her not inconsiderable magical power.
Pining for her friend and lover Prince Jonathan, Alanna has a shock of sorts when the Voice of the Bazhir, Ali Mukhtab, foresees his own death, saying that the prince must be next Voice if the kingdom of the Tortall and the Bazhir themselves are to survive. Enter Jonathan of Conté alongwith Myles of Olau.
The Prince Jonathan of the earlier books has in Woman Who Rides… been devoured by a self-absorbed, restless young man. Call it teenage angst or call it being a spoilt brat, but not even Alanna’s love-bedimmed eyes can ignore this change. It complicates matters when Jon asks her to marry him. She must choose between being future queen of Tortall and married to the man she loves, and being a knight. When she makes her decision, Myles, now her foster-father, is very proud. There are shades of Nynaeve al’Meara (from the Wheel of Time) here, who never let her fondness for Lan Mandragoran blind her from her duty.
This is a story about Alanna’s love life more than anything else. George Cooper, the King of Thieves, makes a delightful appearance towards the end of the book; Sir Myles is as endearing as ever, proving his affection for Alanna by adopting her as his daughter; and Coram is fun. Faithful, Alanna’s purple-eyed cat, has some memorable lines as well. The two young Bazhir women apprentices of Alanna’s, Kara and Kourrem, deserve special mention, as does the quiet, wise Ali Mukhtab and his acceptance of his impending death. Alanna’s twin brother Thom, the powerful sorcerer, shows signs of being corrupted by power—no big deal, for we already knew he was up to no good—and it is not inconceivable that some time in the future he and Alanna will go head to head. The only disappointment is Jonathan’s sudden change. The well-mannered, gentle prince has been replaced by an arrogant chauvinist who tests both Alanna’s love and friendship.
Lots of magic, exotic ceremoines, plenty of duels and pitched battles, and a collection of interesting characters—this one has all the usual ingredients of a Pierce book. Unfortunately, it tapers off towards the end. Woman Who Rides Like a Man, the title coming from the way Alanna is addressed by the Bazhir, is not as compelling as the two previous books and seems something of a filler. But rarely does a fantasy adventure come along with a strong female character at its centre, so we’ll take it. Fans of Alanna will no doubt enjoy this book and look forward to the concluding part of the quartet.
Other books in the series: