Although it wasn’t without its issues, I had a lot of fun re-reading Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in Tamora Pierce’s beloved Song of the Lioness quartet. When I jumped right into the second book, I found it even more readable than the first – meaning I would have finished it in one sitting, had life not interrupted me. But the title for this review is only half in jest. The other half is honest criticism for the crazy pacing.
IN THE HAND OF THE GODDESS
by Tamora Pierce
Published: Simon Pulse, 1984
Paperback: 264 pages
Series: Song of the Lioness #2
My rating: 6/10
Opening line: The copper-haired rider looked at the black sky and swore.
Disguised as a boy, Alanna of Trebond becomes a squire, to none other than the prince of the realm. But Prince Jonathan is much more to Alanna; he is her ally, her best friend, and one of the few who knows that she’s really a girl. Now it will take all of Alanna’s awesome skill, strength, and growing magical powers to protect him from the mysterious evil sorcerer who is bent on his destruction, and hers!
Here continues the story of Alanna, a young woman bound for glory who is willing to fight against enormous odds for what she believes in.
The story picks up about a year after the first book ended and mostly keeps up the series’ breakneck pace. But the writing has matured a bit and Tamora Pierce tried out a few new things in this book. First of all, she takes more time describing individual scenes, making the reading experience more immersive and the world of Tortall a bit more vivid. Secondly, we get glimpses into other POVs! I was positively surprised that we read about the antagonist early on. Although it was obvious from the first book, until his POV we didn’t really get a confirmation that Roger, Duke of Conté is the bad guy who’s trying to take the throne. As villains go, he’s not the most original but he has a lot of patience, I have to give him that.
The story opens with Alanna meeting the Goddess who promptly gives her a magical rock pendant (let’s all wonder if that will be important later). We are also introduced to Alanna’s new feline companion, Faithful, who stole my heart immediately because… well he’s a cat and he’s probably magical and also super smart. And then it’s back to Alanna aka Squire Alan’s life which still consists of training and doing squire-y things but now also includes potential romance.
And this is where my problems with the book begin. Alanna may be a great protagonist for kids to identify with because she is defined purely by her wish to become a knight. Otherwise, she’s pretty blank which makes certain decisions of hers difficult to understand. When George, her thieving friend, declares his love for her, for example, she says she doesn’t want romance and isn’t interested in anything other than being a knight and going on adventures. Okay, that’s cool, I guess. But then a second love intrested comes out and Alanna just goes for it. Towards the end of the book, there is one little dialogue that explores this behaviour and makes more sense of it, but up until that moment, Alanna just comes across as very inconsistent. And because everything in this series is so simplistic, this very real and believable behaviour of a teenage girl just doesn’t work.
The plot is similarly episodic and fast-paced as it was in the first book. Years pass between chapters without it every really feeling like a lot of time has passed. Alanna and her friends even go to war briefly, she’s dreading the upcoming Ordeal – a sort of exam after which she will be a proper knight – and her friends’ reaction when she reveals that she is not, in fact, Alan of Trebond, but Alanna. Things move along so fast that I couldn’t tell you what age Alanna was when they went to war, or when she had her first sexual experience. It’s all a big jumble.
I did enjoy that Alanna’s twin brother, Thom, becomes a more important character in this book. And I suspect he will become even more important in the next instalment. He may even have been the most interesting character here because he is so changed from the 11-year-old boy we met in the first book.
So I didn’t find this book in any way groundbreaking and the writing, although improved, is still very flawed. But I will continue the series because now is when things get really interesting. With Alanna’s training over, it’s anyone’s guess where she will got, what adventures she’ll encounter, and whether (and with whom) she’ll end up if indeed she chooses a romantic partner after all.
I’d recommend this for people looking for a (very) quick and light read without any real surprises but with characters that are easy to like. Bonus points for Faithful, the cat. 🙂
MY RATING: 6/10 – Good