I picked up my first Tamora Pierce novel when I was 12 years old, solely because of her last name. An author named “Pierce” who wrote fantasy? Yes, please!
The first quartet of hers I read was the Circle of Magic, which was coming out while I was 12-13 and thus of a perfect age to read it. However, it was when I was 15 that I discovered Tortall. This fantasy world of hers captured my imagination like no other, with its magic and romance and amazingly kickass heroines. I had liked the Circle series, but I loved Tortall.
I’ve not read many of Pierce’s newer books set in Tortall, but her first three series there will always hold a special place in my heart.
Though not the first series chronologically (that would be Song of the Lioness), the Immortals quartet was the first of the Tortall books that I read. I fell in love with Daine from the first pages of Wild Magic, a smart and self-sufficient heroine who traded on her knack with animals to get by. But of course, it’s more than just a knack—it’s magic, and she eventually becomes apprenticed to the mage Numair to help her learn to control her gift.
This quartet is so named because the Immortals, some very nasty beasts that have been trapped outside Tortall in the Divine Realms for centuries, are starting to make their way into the world once again. We get to see a number of fantastical creatures—some familiar, but most not—and how their reappearance changes things for the world.
I loved Daine’s magic, and I also really liked her relationship with Numair, which starts out as a mentor/student thing early on but gradually (very gradually) becomes something more once she’s older. It was a slow build in the best way.
Song of the Lioness
The first of the Tortall books, the Song of the Lioness quartet is about Alanna of Trebond, who wants to be a knight. The problem is that in Tortall, women aren’t allowed to train as warriors. Instead, she’s to be shipped off to a convent, while her twin brother, Thom, is supposed to go to the palace to train as a knight. Since Thom would rather study magic, Alanna disguises herself as a boy and they trade places.
The first two books of the series focus on Alanna’s knight training, and the next two on her adventures as she leaves Tortall to explore the world. After two books that stay pretty close to the palace and the capital city, it’s cool to branch out and see more of the world, along with the other countries and cultures that she encounters.
To this day, Alanna is one of my absolute favorite heroines. Her dogged determination is admirable, the way she pushes back against every enemy and obstacle she faces. She was a very different heroine from Daine, whose magic was her strength. While Alanna does have the Gift (as it’s called in Tortall), she’s a warrior first and foremost.
Ten years after the Song of the Lioness series ends, women are allowed to train as knights, but so far none have. That is, until Keladry of Mindelan steps up to the challenge. As the first openly female knight, Kel finds herself the target of vicious bullying, pranks, and worse as she progresses through her training.
Kel was interesting to me because she was the first of Pierce’s heroines who wasn’t a magic user. She was from a completely different culture, and so there was that culture shock she had to adjust to in addition to all the crap the boys were throwing at her. Although I personally liked Daine and Alanna a little better as heroines, I also really liked that Kel was different, and enjoyed the new perspective in her stories.
If you know of a teenager who likes fantasy with strong female main characters, I can’t recommend the Tortall books enough. Start them off with Song of the Lioness and let them loose from there. 🙂
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