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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Song of the Lioness Quartet

The Song of the Lioness was originally published in 4 books (hence quartet), however, I believe it has been published as a single edition omnibus in both the US and UK.

The four books, in reading order are:-

1. Alanna, the first adventure
2. In the hands of the Goddess
3. Woman who rides like a man
4. Lioness Rampant

This series in a nutshell?

10-year-old tomboy Alanna doesn't want to waste her life by being a 'Lady', whilst her wimpy twin brother, Thom, really doesn't have the mettle to undergo 8 years of gruelling training to become a Knight. Solution? Alanna cuts her hair and assumes the identity 'Alan' (because girls can't become knights) and heads off to the Capital to start service and training as a page and Thom heads off to learn sorcery (no, he doesn't have to dress in drag to do this.)

Despite having enough trouble just completing the exhausting page timetable (a half day of classes behind desks, followed by a half day of physical training, and then pages are required to wait upon a senior noble and serve dinner) Alanna also has to keep her sex a secret - until she hit puberty all she had to do was not bathe or swim with the other pages, but once breasts start growing she has to come up with slightly more creative ways of hiding her real identity. And then if that isn't enough, Alanna and her colleagues also face a mystical illness that plagues the capital, evil spirits from before the time of man, and - what is quite possibly the hardest thing for young adolescents, an overgrown bully.

Along the way she picks up a few allies - her manservant Corum, Crown Prince Jonathon, fellow pages and squires Raoul, Gary and Alex, elderly scholar and knight Miles, and the King of Thieves, the Rogue aka George. 

The first installment of the quartet, Alanna is doing everything in her power to forget she is a girl and to be taken as a equal to a man. A few people are in on her secret, but for the most part she is happy she doesn't have to learn how to be an 'insipid girl'. 

However, after she has matured a few years in the second installment, she becomes intrigued by the interactions with her friends and the females around court. Being heterosexual herself, she cannot grasp at the way her friends are taken by such 'useless creatures' and decides she needs to learn what being a girl is really about. This idea is built upon in the third and fourth books of the series. 

In the third book, Alanna is taken in by a nomadic desert tribe whose customs place more restrictions upon women that her own culture. With her magical ability she becomes Shaman and forces the tribe to accept changes she instills when she selects two girls as apprentice Shaman. However, from these girls Alanna begins to see the value of 'female work' such as weaving. 

It is not until the fourth book that Alanna befriends females her own age - and when these new friends mock and laugh at Alanna's lack of skills with looking after a baby, Alanna begins to realise that females are in fact quite skilled human beings, and it is the men who are ignorant for not realising it. 

Of course, while Alanna is growing and learning all this, she is still having great adventures. The threat of treason and possible regicide looms over the kingdom - and Alanna believe she knows who the traitor is but no-one will hear her out. She also has a few other internal struggles - such as how to handle relationships with men including an unexpected marriage proposal, and whether or not she could have both a family and still maintain her Independence as a knight. 

As a protagonist, Alanna would certainly fit in well with (first/second?? wave) feminists who believed that to fit into a 'Man's World' you needed to act like a Man, whilst acting like a Woman made you weak and insignificant (yes, I am making a huge generalisation about the feminist movement here. I believe that as Pierce is writing more novels her ideologies are becoming more in line with neo-feminist or third wave feminist thinking.)

The dominant ideology within this series is that you do not have to accept the place you are given in society. Although Alanna had to resort to subterfuge in order to be in control of her own destiny, she ended up proving that she was able and worthy to continue down the path she, and not society, had chosen for her. 

I would highly recommend Song of the Lioness as an excellent starting point if you are new to Tamora Pierce's work. I still love to reread these novels every so often - and don't think that just because the marketing is not aimed at you that you will not enjoy them. Pierce has mentioned that she originally wrote Alanna's tale for an adult audience, but after a suggestion from a friend rewrote and edited it for a younger audience (which possibly helped it along it's way to getting published usually publishers are begging for books written for this age group)

Anyway, below are a few of the different covers of the Alanna books that have been issued around the world. 

Hope you enjoyed this review (without me giving away too much, like the ending) and you'll come back tomorrow when I review The Immortals

song of the lioness covers


2paw said...

Because my Alanna books were rained on, I now have a weird collection of the one in the middle on Row 1 and the last two on Row 5!!
I agree that her POV has become more subtle as the series have progressed. Seeing Alanna as agrown wman she in less First Wave and more Later Wave!!

weebug said...

i enjoyed that series very much! and it was also a great series to listen to on audio book with my kids in the car.