Wednesday, May 1, 2013

PierceFest: Alanna: The First Adventure

In case you need a refresher on what PierceFest, aka the five-month-long celebration of all things related to fantasy writer/goddess Tamora Pierce, is, read all about it here!

The month of May belongs to the series that introduced us to the world of Tortall and Tamora's genius: The Song of the Lioness, starring Alanna, the bravest and best Lady Knight and my childhood hero. If you're a Tamora Pierce newbie, then you should definitely start here, since it was Pierce's first published novel. I've put together some reviews of all the books (as non-spoilery as possible, though there will be mild spoilers) for both the newbies and those who need a refresher. Heck, even for those who read the books last week, like I did.

If you're not a Pierce newbie, and really do want a full plot refresher, the Wikipedia pages have very spoilerrific summaries.
These are the covers I grew up with. In fact, I am holding these four books in my hands right now.

Book One
Alanna: The First Adventure

"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight." 

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.

But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.

Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's first adventure begins -- one that will leard to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.

So here's what you need to know about Book One. Alanna is a noble ten-year-old with the world's most neglectful father and a twin brother. (Fun Gillian fact: I also have a twin brother. This obviously means I am Alanna of Trebond, except I hate exercise and would never be able to pull off being a boy and am scared of horses and don't like violence. So clearly we're exactly the same person.) She wants to become a knight, something only boys are allowed to do, and her brother, Thom, wants to become a sorcerer. When Thom is ordered to train for knighthood and Alanna is ordered to go to the convent, Alanna (love that she's always the instigator of her own fate!) decides to hell with that. She and Thom are going to switch places. She'll head south to become a page in the palace, masquerading as a boy named "Alan", and Thom will head to the City of the Gods to become a world-class sorcerer. Oh, and Alanna is super duper talented at magic, but she hates and fears her Gift. Thom, obviously, does not.
And Thom and Alanna's Gift is purple. IT'S PERFECT.

So Alanna heads off to Corus, Tortall's capital city, to train and train hard. Pagehood is like being a Marine but worse because she's eleven and has to hide who she really is. She also she has to deal with bullies (Ralon of Malven, you are the worst) and not being as good at weaponry as she wants to be. But fierce, tough, unbreakable Alanna is the most stubborn little person you ever did meet. She is also the sassiest little snark-monster, and I love it.

Gendry: You shouldn't insult people who are bigger than you.

Alanna's snarkiest hits:

"I was told pages were supposed to learn manners. Whoever told me that must've been mistaken."

"I'd as soon kiss a pig! Is that what you've been doing--kissing pigs? Or being kissed!"

"Take it back. Or I'll stuff your mouth with dung--since you like it so much!"

Duke Gareth: "Mithros, boy, can't you think of a better excuse?"
Alanna: "This one works so well, sir. It has tradition behind it.... Well, sir, you don't believe me and I know you don't believe me, but pride is satisfied all around, Your Grace."

"You disgrace your name. D'you want me to write it down for you? Oh-- I forgot. You can't read, either."

She's lucky to have several fiercely devoted friends: George, king of thieves (and the love of my life); Prince Jonathan, a fellow page and heir to the throne (and the other love of my life); big, sarcastic Gary of Naxen; even bigger Raoul of Goldenlake; wise Sir Myles of Olau, court drunk and brilliant history teacher; secretive Alexander of Tirragen, the most talented swordsman at court; and gruff, surly Coram Smythesson, her man-at-arms and expert swordsman who practically raised her back home in Trebond.

Oh, yeah, and then there's Duke Roger of Conte. Handsome, clever, and the most powerful sorcerer in the world, Duke Roger is second in line to the throne (behind his cousin Jonathan, aka Alanna's bestie). Alanna doesn't like or trust the duke, but she can't exactly put her finger on why. And Duke Roger doesn't like or trust Alan much, either. *Insert dramatic music* Needless to say, INTRIGUE ABOUNDS.

Alanna: The First Adventure takes place over three years of Alanna's life at court. She deals with deadly disease and even deadlier sword fights with ancient magical entities. She struggles with her own magic and with her nemesis, the sly and slippery Duke. There are desert tribesmen and magic swords and dealings with gods. There is also the greatest gender-reveal scene in the history of literature. It's very... revealing, shall we say.

Alanna: The First Adventure is very much Alanna's story (duh). This a girl who is stubborn to a fault. When she discovers she is an absolutely wretched swordsman, and too small to be taken seriously by anybody, she decides she's going to change that. Alanna earns her skills through hard work, practice, and grit. Through broken bones, sleepless nights, and constant exhaustion.

Coram: Some learn the sword. They work all the extra minutes they have. They don't let a piece of metal--or Aram Sklaw--beat them.
Alanna: It's possible to learn to be a natural?

Alanna's not a girl who ever accepts the cards the gods have dealt her (both her biggest flaw and her strongest virtue).

This didn't make sense to Alanna, so she ignored it.

She's still totally terrified of both her magic and having people love her, and she absolutely loathes the womanly parts of herself (the scene where she first discovers her chest jiggling is a classic, as is the tragic/hilarious scene of Alanna's first period. Poor girl), but it's the first adventure. We'll get to watch her grow. And trust me, you don't want to miss a second of it.

After all, the book doesn't end with the words The End. It ends with the words The Beginning.

Notable quotables:

 "It's harder to heal than it is to kill. The Mother knows why, but you've got a gift for both."
--Old Maude

 “I truly love our Code of Chivalry. We are taught that noblemen must take everything and say nothing. Noblemen must stand alone. Well, we're men, and men aren't born to stand alone."
--Myles of Olau

 “Why does this mean so much to you, Jon?"
The Prince turned. "Because (Alan)'s my friend. Because I always know where he stands, and where I stand with him. Because I think he'd die for me and--and I think I'd die for him. Is that enough?”
--Jon, continuing to be perfection personified

“Excuse me," she said politely. "But you can't have him. Not yet. He's going to come back with me.”
-Alanna, badass mofo

 “Girl, boy or dancing bear, you're the finest page--the finest squire-to-be-- at court."

"That's because I'm the only one with insanity in my family."

"You called me 'Jon'."

 “I believe in deeds, not words.”

"Me. I think you should pick me."

"Alanna, child, ye'll be happy only when ye learn t'live with who ye are."

"So you can die. You can feel pain."

"I am not often kind, Alan."
-Duke Roger

So what say ye, Pierce Fest followers? If you're a newbie, does Alanna: The First Adventure sound like the book for you? (Don't say no.) And for those of you who have read the book, what do you love about it?


  1. What do I love about Alanna? Well, I didn't start with Alanna, so it isn't dearest to my heart. I was just so charmed by her daughter, Aly, but that's skipping ahead a bit.

    My favorite thing about the Alanna series is how sex positive it is, though obviously that's not really a thing in book one. I read them all in a row, so I really can't distinguish one book from another; it's just the series as a whole to me. Anyway, I think it's awesome that Alanna gets to have sex with several guys without ever being shamed for it. And I love how she winds up getting with the right one when the time comes, but she needed those other experiences for her and her man to really work. :)

    1. See, I started with Alanna, and then Daine, and then Aly, and though I love all three of them, Alanna will always be number one because she WAS number one.

      AND YES. SEX POSITIVITY. This series is the BEST for that. And exactly what you said about the right one and the experiences and yes. Thrice yes.

  2. I AM SERIOUSLY JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN EXCITEMENT RIGHT NOW. Alanna is an amazing character, and you're spot on in your observations and commentary on her in the first book! She's pretty kick-ass for a heroine, and there's no one quite like here.

    ALSO. I didn't know you were a twin. But now that I do, I officially pronounce you ALANNA. (And I can do that as a #PierceFest co-host!)

  3. Oh my gosh, I think I just cried from nostalgia. *clutches heart* I need to reread my weathered copy and SOON.

    Also, thank you for all the QUOTABLES. I just LOVE Alanna!

    1. I cried and squealed with nostalgia so many times while rereading this. There was MUCH heart-clutching.

  4. OK, so, I am not Jonathan's biggest fan—which is due to a combination of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and his part in Kel's probation—but "You called me 'Jon'" just about does me in because his friendship with Alanna is, at the end of the day, so so so wonderful.

    Ahhhhhh, I just love these books so much!

    1. Jon REALLY tested my love in The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, which... oh, I have so much to say about that. And yeah, but he was sort of pressured in the Kel situation. BUT I love how he matured, and how important Alanna is to him and vice versa. AND "You called me 'Jon'" made me burst into baby tears.

  5. I read this series FOREVER ago so I can't really remember it, but I do remember being rather smitten by Jon. I was never the greatest fan of George, but I can see the appeal. I remember when I was in middle school how badly I wished I was Alanna. Seriously. I think part of me was convinced I'd be a lady knight when I grew up.

  6. I AM PUMPED. PierceFest couldn't have come at a better time. Seriously. I've been wanting to start reading her books and have constantly debating over which book to start with and then THIS HAPPENS.

    :) I picked up a copy of this book yesterday at the library and cannot wait to start reading!!

  7. Its really great review to know about this information..Thanks a lot for sharing your post.


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