Title: Alanna: The First Adventure
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: Song of the Lioness, #1
Despite my friends going through a Tamora Pierce phase, I never really did. As such, this is my first time reading Alanna, and while in some ways I was pleasantly surprised, in others I was really left wanting or I was simply annoyed. I can easily see how this was a formative book for many of my peers, but I feel that YA for young women has grown to the point that we have things that are much better.
Perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is that in so many fantasy novels meant for young women have a protagonist with almost no flaws. Alanna is almost perfect in everything she does, and if she isn't from the start, she works so hard that she becomes great. On the other hand, I find that while sometimes fantasy novels not specifically meant for young women do have that super shiny perfect protag, it's not the rule.
Maybe it's that so many writers feel a female protagonist can't be "strong" unless she can easily surmount any flaws she might (read doesn't ever really) have? If so, talk unattainable role models. I mean, Alanna is great at fighting (and when she can't be great at a specific thing, it takes less than six months secret training and she's there), she's great at magic, she's pretty but can also easily pass as a boy, she's innocent yet cunning, she always has the perfect riposte, she can hold her tongue when she needs to, she pretty much never gets in trouble unless it's the right thing to do and even then the adults are secretly proud of her, everyone's her friend except the one evil dude but no one likes him anyway... should I go on?
If there's absolutely no reason for anyone to like her, magic intervenes. Oh, and she's special enough to be given a magic sword.
Then again, we should know this from the first page because she and her twin brother have purple eyes. Everyone knows that purple eyes means you're destined for something. And it's never destined for cleaning out stables for the rest of your life.
So, the whole getting away with passing as a boy thing... first of all, if Alanna really was binding with bandages all the time, she'd have severely hurt herself. Binding with bandages can warp your ribcage. It's really not something you should do, especially often. Never mind the fact that binding with bandages, she'd pop out while doing the strenuous activity of learning to be a knight. Even beyond that, it's just ridiculous to think she could keep up this farce for years. It's not reasonable. I'd know.
Also, the whole "oh god period what is" scene in every "girl pretends to be a boy" novel is really tired. Really tired.
The tech level of the world also seems to be really inconsistent. They have germ theory (people know illness is contagious) but nothing else matches that level of tech sophistication and understanding. I know, I know, medieval-style fantasy. But some level of consistency is nice.
Oh, and for keeping up the whole charade... everyone seems way too chill when they find out she's a girl. It's like they freak out for a second, but then are totally over it the next. And I really find it ridiculous how her father's that absentminded and the dude who runs the knight-training place isn't suspicious at all.
But as much as I complain, it was a kind of fun read, even though most of the tropes it used were rather tired and the writing got painfully simplistic at points. I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone who never read it in childhood... I think it's really one of those things that's best viewed through nostalgia glasses.