RogerBW's Blog

Alanna: the First Adventure, Tamora Pierce 20 March 2023

1983 fantasy, first of a tetralogy. Alanna wants to be a knight and have adventures; her twin brother Thom wants to be trained in magic. So they swap roles, and Alanna disguises herself as a boy.

So far so standard, but this is 1983. Even Arrows of the Queen won't come out for another four years; fantasy coming out this year is mostly set in a modern world (Tea with the Black Dragon, So You Want to Be a Wizard), parodic (The Colour of Magic), or hackneyed (Robert Jordan's Conan pastiches, volume 3 of The Belgariad). So while Girls as protagonists may be quite standard in folk songs, they aren't yet common in Fantasyland, and we get a huge heaping of Girls Can't.

There's a relatively light dusting of fantasy here, too; we have something very like the mediƦval English system of pages and squires, even if some people do have magical powers, and while Alanna has a healing gift (to go with, sigh, her purple-irised eyes) that's mostly not what this story is about.

So we get the standard bullying (and the standard incompetent supervision, though it's sadly historically accurate), the standard making friends, and so on. There's a great deal more education than in the historical version (these knights are all able to read and write!) for no reason that's obvious yet. Everyone who likes Alanna is Good; everyone who dislikes her is Evil, though some of them hide it at first. The world's dimmest prince can't believe that his nice cousin and heir might want him dead, so clearly that education has gaps in it.

It doesn't have a great deal to say now, but the reason why I read it now is that there wasn't much fantasy saying this stuff at all forty years ago and I wanted to get some historical perspective. The tetralogy was originally written as one great doorstop of a novel, and this chunk of it doesn't come to any particular conclusion.

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  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:42pm on 20 March 2023

    I liked these and I've continued to collect her stuff since.

    You may find some of the later books a bit more problematic from a modern point of view.


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    Fur yngre zneevrf na byqre zna (gubhtu V'z abg fher ubj zhpu byqre) jub vf gur ybpny Xvat bs Guvrirf orsber ur tbrf vagb tbireazrag jbex nf gur Puvrs Fcl. V'z abg fher ubj zhpu pevgvpvfz Znl-Frcgrzore cnvevatf trg gurfr qnlf.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:53am on 21 March 2023

    Does the book cover how Thom gets on disguising himself as a girl to be trained in magic?

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 09:24am on 21 March 2023

    He doesn't have to - the Daughters of the Goddess train both sexes. It's only the knights who are limited.

  4. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:48pm on 21 March 2023

    Disappointingly, boys are allowed to be magicians. It's just girls don't get to be knights. So Thom can get away by just turning up and saying "No, they must have given you the wrong name..."

  5. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:29pm on 21 March 2023

    Hmm. I realise pre computer tech it's easier to get away with that sort of thing, but after a while someone will realise there are two Thom's. And eventually someone may get concerned about zero Alanna's.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 02:50pm on 21 March 2023

    This does come up; their father is not entirely with it, and it's made to seem plausible that he should have erred in his correspondence.

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