Friday, May 10, 2013

PierceFest: In the Hand of the Goddess

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 a couple weeks ago, 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.

Book Two
In the Hand of the Goddess

  "I don't want to fall in love. I just want to be a warrior maiden."

Still disguised as a boy, Alanna becomes a squire to none other than the prince of the realm. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna's liege lord, he is also her best friend -- and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a mysterious sorcerer threatens the prince's life, it will take all of Alanna's skill, strength, and magical power to protect him -- even at the risk of revealing who she really is...

Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's second adventure continues the saga of a girl who dares to follow her dreams -- and the magical destiny that awaits her.

Head here to read my review/recap of Alanna: The First Adventure!

Book Two is probably my favorite of all the Song of the Lioness books, and possibly my favorite of all of Tamora Pierce's books (well, second favorite. I LOVE In the Realms of the Gods. Also Emperor Mage. Okay, I can't play this game. I love them all). Why is ItHotG my favorite? Because it has the best acronym! (You: "Why is it so amazing?" Me: "Because It Hot, G.")

No. It's because this is when the sexing and the flirting and the romancing happens. I know what I like, and I like that. I've read this particular book so many times the binding literally fell apart and I had to repair it with clear packing tape. May it last another ten years of Gillian love.

The opening scene of ItHotG comprises of Alanna meeting none other than the Goddess herself, who acknowledges that Alanna is one of her Chosen. What I LOVE about Pierce is that this doesn't mean Alanna's destined to succeed, or that she's been given any godly powers or anything. No, it means Alanna's obstacles will be greater, and she'll have to suffer a lot and work very hard to overcome them. Nothing Alanna achieves is easy. Everything is through hard-work and determination. It's refreshing, honestly, when so much of fantasy is about heroes who the Chosen Ones, naturally bestowed with the gift of saving the world and whatnot. Alanna's a hero because of her own grit and character. She has gifts, yes, but as she learns throughout the books, that's not enough. Power can eat you alive; it's about earning the strength to control it and wield it properly.

 So Alanna and the Goddess have a frank discussion about Alanna's three main fears: the Ordeal of Knighthood (aka the SCARIEST RITUAL IN HISTORY, which Alanna must pass upon her eighteenth midwinter should she wish to earn her shield); Duke Roger of Conte, Prince Jonathan's highly supsicious cousin who basically has the word EVIL tattooed on his forehead; and love. The love of her friends, but mostly the love of George, King of Thieves, and Jonathan, heir to the throne, the two men in her life with the potential to be more.

These three fears, and how Alanna addresses them, reacts to them, learns to accept them, or, in some cases, doesn't, inform the whole book. Alanna remains the same snark-tastic, stubborn, strong girl she always was. She hasn't entirely overcome her flaws, but it's so much fun watching her deal with them. Oh, and Alanna also acquires probably the greatest animal sidekick in literature: Faithful the black-haired, purple-eyed cat. (If you've read the Beka books, you may recognize him!)

I don't know about you, but I need a helpful talking cat to advise me, snark at me, and occasionally save my life.

I think one of the things I love best about Tamora Pierce is the way she deals with relationships, particularly females who choose to  have them. At first glance you'd think, oh, how predictable, one girl two guys blah blah, but it's so much more than that. Alanna is so not your the cliche YA "heroine" torn between two guys. She's a real girl, with real problems of her own, fighting to figure out who she is and how she's going to function in this messed up and scary world. And Tamora Pierce never judges Alanna for her romantic choices, or her sexual choices, and neither should the reader. It's all so very wonderful and modern.

So not only does Alanna have a lot to deal with on the romance front (Jon and George both make excellent options), but as Prince Jonathan's squire, she's got a lot of responsibility. There's war on the border with Tusaine, Duke Roger is practically twirling his mustache in the corner and nobody but her seems to notice, and oh, yeah, SOMEONE IS TRYING TO KILL HER. That scene beneath the ice always makes me shudder. And let's not forget that through it all, Alanna still has to lie about her identity. She's still pretending to be a boy, pitching her voice lower, binding her breasts, the whole nine yards. And being forced to dance with court ladies.

Throw in hormones, George making it clear he loves her and only her, Jonathan suddenly acting quite peculiar, Alexander of Tirragen suddenly putting a lot more energy into their sparring matches, Duke Roger's suspicious suspiciousness, and the most epic sword fight of all sword fights, and Alanna's path to knighthood has never looked rockier.

Alanna's snarkiest hits:

"If I killed everyone who was stupid, I wouldn't have time to sleep."

 "Pigs might fly. I should have stabbed you!"
This is how my girl reacts to being spontaneously kissed. Attagirl.

"I'm honored by Your Grace's concern."

"You are brave, kicking a chained prisoner. They must sing heroic battles about you on winter nights!"

"Perhaps your mother betrayed your father with a warthog. You both certainly have a warthog's manners. Jem there even has a warthog's looks."

Another thing I love about Alanna's journey is how her strengths are also weaknesses. Her determination to never crumble, and do everything herself, is a serious boon when it comes to some things, but it's made her fear depending on others and opening up part of her heart to them. But it's certainly fun to watch her come around. And oh, the romaaaaance in this one. You guys. Jon vs. George is a very serious and important question that informed my entire thirteenth year. Please don't spoil her ultimate choice in the comments, though, for the newbies!

Notable quotables:

"What do they know about girls, anyway? Maids at the palace handle snakes and kill spiders without acting silly. Why do boys say someone acts like a girl as if it were an insult?"

"But you, my daughter--learn to love. You have been given a hard road to walk. Love will ease it."
--The Goddess

"Stupid. That was very stupid. And you're lucky I'm a better 'knight' than you are, or you'd be dead."

"Shouldn't you know what love's like before you begin renouncin' it?"
--George, making a serious bid for my heart

"Does that truly stand between us, Alanna? If you loved, would you care about birth or wealth?"

If you're going to fall in love with the Prince, don't show it. Unless you want the whole camp talking about you both.

"Sleep, Thor."

"Thank you for taking care of me, Jon."

"This is too serious for drink."

There must be insanity in my family, too.

"Don't move, and please don't try any sorcery. I'll make you swallow it."

"I'm beautiful."

"The next move on the board is mine."
--Duke Roger

"If hate is wanting to crush someone because you know they're evil, then yes--I hate the Duke of Conte."

"I don't know what love is. At least, not the kind you're talking about-- the forever kind."

"I'm scared too. At least we can be scared together."

"Do I believe my ears? Alanna the Heartless, talkin' for love instead of against it?"

"You're fighting what has to be. And you know it as well as I do."

"I love you, Alanna. Ignore it if you want, but I do love you."

"Oh, I can't wait to see their faces!"

"I don't think I've ever been this scared in my life, George."

"When she passes the Ordeal, no one will be able to say she didn't earn her shield, whether she's a girl or not."

"It's won't happen, Jon. I promise it won't."

If he catches you, you will be very dead.

"I think Alan's used up his foolishness for the day."

"Halt! What is going on here?"
-- King Roald

--Alex of Tirragen

"Let's go find an adventure!"

"It's a lioness rampant, of course."


  1. One thing that I love about this series is how many "flaws" Alanna has. It's not that she is flawed, but she is so, so human. She has a temper that gets the better of her, she has fears about love and depending on even one other person. Despite literally being the stuff of legend and going for her shield, she has the same problems as many readers!

    1. Yes! Exactly! She does things that are larger than life, but she herself isn't. She's so relatable and human.

  2. "No. It's because this is when the sexing and the flirting and the romancing happens. I know what I like, and I like that."

    Bahaha, made of win. I am totally like that with all of the fantasy series. Oh hey, book where action happens, did you just get the highest rating yet from me? I think you did!

    From what I remember, when, let's be honest, is totally not reliable at all, I was never a huge fan of her relationship with Jon, BUT I do love how they manage to have it and still be like respectful of each other and friends afterward. That's class, yo.

    1. I'm not ashamed of the fact that I like kissing above everything else.

      I was a BIG Jon/Alanna shipper as a kid, even though I also loved her with George, but now I'm totally Team George/Alanna. But I love Alanna's relationships with ALL her men, and how she maintains them, and how Tamora Pierce portrays them. So much class.

  3. Hands down my favorite book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, for Winter Lessons reasons. I'm pretty sure I've always rooted for George, though. Princes are great and all, but give me a snarky, crooked nosed King of Thieves any day. I'm still holding out hope for a single book about George's teenage years before becoming King of Thieves, though that ship has probably sailed in light of the Beka Cooper trilogy.

    1. WINTER LESSONS. Also my entire reasoning for choosing this as my favorite Alanna book. Ditto George and the snark and the nose and the thieving. I would LOVE a book about George, but it would be really similar to Beka, so, you're right. Probably wouldn't happen.


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