So I finally got around to starting the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. I’m a huge fan of her work, but haven’t had a chance to read them all yet. This was Pierce’s first novel and kicked off the Tortallan universe.
Alanna of Trebond has disguised herself as her twin brother so she can learn to be a knight of the realm. During her page years, she must hider her secret and survive long enough to become a squire. Alanna, or Alan, deals with bullying, her first menstrual cycle, makes friends in and out of the palace, saves the life of the prince not once but twice, and earns the respect of nobles and royals alike.
The Song of the Lioness was originally conceived as one adult novel, however the publisher encouraged Pierce to break it up into four smaller young adult novels. As such, this one didn’t really have a lot of action as it was chiefly concerned with Alanna’s early training. The conflict mainly came from the trials and tribulations of being a teen girl disguised as a boy training to be a knight and dealing with a bully. The final conflict however did kick off the storyline for the next novel. I wouldn’t say it was a boring book, but it was rather lacking in the action department compared to her other books, even the shorter, older ones. It was, however, surprisingly fast paced. The book started just before Alanna’s 11th birthday and went until she was roughly 14, and a lot happened in those three years. For this reason I think this one is on that cusp between being considered both a Middle Grade and a Young Adult book.
Peirce’s books remained on the short side with four novels comprising once character’s journey for many years (There are two more Tortallan Universe Quartets after this one and two Circle/Emalan Universe ones). It wasn’t until Harry Potter became popular that her books became longer, not because she wasn’t writing long stories, but because as she says, her publisher didn’t believe kids would read long books. This is the perfect example of how HP revolutionized the world of children’s and YA literature. Indeed if you look at books published before this time, they are all indeed under three hundred pages. Now, they are routinely 300+ for MG and 400-500 pages, if not longer for YA (Winter was over 800 pages!). The Trickser books, which tell the story of Alanna’s daughter are each the length of two of her earlier ones, allowing the story to be told in two books instead of four. I can’t help but think that if these were published now, that this one and the next , In the Hand of the Goddess, would have been one book comprising Alanna’s page and squire years, with the later two books as one book telling her early years as a knight.
For the length and general lack of a large scale conflict, I have to rate this one lower. I didn’t expect to rate a book by Pierce as Three Lightsabers, but I think I have to to be honest. If Pierce had been allowed to publish it as intended, but rating would probably be higher.