By Rebecca Manuel
Recently, I have been feeling a bit nostalgic for the books I read years ago. I used to read all the time when I was younger, and I read some of my absolute favorite books in junior high school. But as I got into the higher grades in high school, with more high level classes, and then college, I essentially stopped reading books for fun. Especially in college as an English major, I had to take classes for which I was assigned to read more books than I could actually read in the time I had for homework. Of course, I always found time to watch TV or spend time with my friends (SparkNotes helped a lot…), but I never felt like I could read because if I was to read something, it should be the books that I had to read for class. Do you know what I mean? So for around six years or so, I read less than a handful of books for fun.
Now, my position here with JET allows me the downtime I never really had during school. So for the past ten months I have been reconnecting with my love of reading – and most recently, rereading, because out of all of the new books I have tried out, none have held a candle to some of the amazing books I have already read. Howl’s Moving Castle, Beauty, and The Way of Shadows were three of those books. Now I have moved on to books written by one of my favorite authors: Tamora Pierce.
Hailing from my home state of Pennsylvania, Tamora Pierce published her first novel in 1983 and is still writing today, with her next novel set to be released sometime this year. She has written multiple series set in two different fictional universes. One of these is the Circle universe, in which she is still writing. I have read only one of the books set in this universe. The other universe is the Tortall universe. As of a month ago, I have read all five series, 17 books in total. The Tortall universe is so named for the primary country of the series. Other countries are mentioned throughout the series, and they are shown on the map at the beginning of each book, but generally, either the characters hail from Tortall or the primary events of the stories take place in Tortall.
Tortall itself is essentially the typical, fantastical version of medieval Europe, full of knights, nobles, commoners, magic, and the lot. But when you look past the essentials, the world and the stories are anything but typical. The countries around Tortall each generally represent real-world races (Scandinavians in Scanra, Africans/Egyptians in Carthak, various indigenous peoples found in the minorities of the various countries, etc.). Tortall, being the wealthiest and (eventually – the first series sets this growth in motion) most open-minded country, becomes a melting pot of cultures and races as estranged people from the surrounding countries seek that open-mindedness and acceptance. Furthermore, each series follows one major character, and each character grows from being a little nobody to achieving a great destiny. The epicness of their deeds as they become legends known throughout the world combined with their humanity makes the stories both grand and personal in perfect proportion. And best of all: the main characters are women, each of whom works to break the pseudo-Victorian patriarchal limitations and stereotypes of women that exist even in this fictional world. It’s fantastic.
When I feel homesick, Tortall and its characters feel like home to me. So, to begin what I hope will be a series of reviews of each series in the Tortall universe, I introduce to you the first series, entitled Song of the Lioness. Alanna, the protagonist, is not the feminine sort as a child. Instead, she has dreams of becoming the first lady knight in over a century. She wants to go on adventures, to see the world and use her skills to help people. However, society requires that she go to a convent to learn how to become a proper lady, and women are seen as too weak to become a knight; it is not their place. Therefore, she disguises herself as a boy and trades places with her twin brother, Thom, who wants to become a great sorcerer, not a knight. And thus her journey to becoming known worldwide as the Lioness, King’s Champion, and one of the greatest warriors in the history of Tortall, as well as her personal journey to becoming a woman, begins.
This all sounds wonderful – and it is, mostly. Alanna is stubborn, fiery, and quick to anger, but more importantly she’s strong, dedicated, and passionate. However, it is also a bit obvious that this is Tamora Pierce’s debut series. It’s jumpy at times, showing oftentimes very short snapshots of Alanna’s life before skipping to the next thing. Some of the descriptions of fighting feel a bit rushed, and the endings of the books feel almost anticlimactic due to this. Certain situations feel almost unrealistic, making me think, “This wouldn’t happen in real life.” And there is too much attention paid to Alanna’s awkward and in some ways underdeveloped romantic attachments. In the final book, Alanna cries so frequently over this one guy that I actually became annoyed with her. So, this series is certainly not without its flaws.
But despite being somewhat rough around the edges, it’s still a very good series and a fantastic introduction to the world of Tortall and the characters that form the legendary first generation. Even if it’s not the best series of the Tortall universe (and it’s not strictly necessary to read it to understand the subsequent series), I still highly recommend reading it. If you’re disappointed, I understand, but don’t rule out Tamora Pierce yet; the next series is one of my favorites. But I’ll write about that in my next review.
To buy the first book for Kindle, go here: Amazon.
To check out other books by Tamora Pierce, go here: Tamora Pierce.
To read an interesting excerpt from a book about Tamora Pierce, her series, and the world of Tortall, go here: Reading Tamora Pierce.
If you read the Song of the Lioness series, or if you have a different book that you’d like to recommend, please send your thoughts/review to: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is Rebecca signing off. Over and out!