This article was originally posted on the Readings blog, 24 May 2011.
Books, especially those you come across in your formative years, have the capacity for an enormous impact in your life. In my case there are too many to count as many authors and their characters showed me something about the world and myself. Whether it be laughing uproariously at Anne thwacking Gilbert with a slate, admiring Lizzie and falling in love with Mr Darcy or following Josie as she discovered the truth of her family, I grew as a person. Not one of them changed my life but they all contributed to it greatly. Jane Austen feels like an old friend with a violently sharp tongue, LM Montgomery was a reassuring quilt to cloak myself in, and Melinda Marchetta allowed me to relate to a range of nuanced Aussie girls.
However the title, or series, I would like to put forward Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure is a book that changed my life. I was eleven years old when I first stumbled across Alanna in my primary school library and swiftly fell in love with the world of Tortall. You see, I wasn’t that girl who loved pink, or dreamed of riding unicorns, or even crushed on Jonathon from New Kids on the Block (the 80s One Direction). I have always been pragmatic so Tamora Pierce’s land of sword play, magic (not the Xanadu kind) and palace intrigue was heaven to this bookworm with tomboy tendencies.
Alanna showed me a girl willing to work her butt off to follow her dreams and aspirations. Unhappy with the convent life set out for her, Alanna disguised herself as her twin brother and rides to Tortall’s castle to become a knight. She commits to hiding her gender for eight long years in order to step into a role she was destined to have. As Alan of Trebond, she earns her friends’ respect by working her guts out and striving to be her best despite opposition from a loathsome bully and the risk of being found out. She possessed firm ideals and was loyal, selfless and stubborn as all heck. She may have been a name on a page, but to me Alanna was something to aspire to. Not that I wanted to become a knight but the way in which she conducted herself, the quality of her friendships and the divine George Cooper made me long to be her.
A reader can do no better to acquaint themselves with the fantasy genre then by picking up a Pierce novel. Alanna is rich in character, features authentic conflict and demonstrates thorough world building. It has the additional bonus of magic, romance and wicked swordplay for those who enjoy the simpler things in life! I hold this series to my heart with a strong grip and heartily recommend it to all. The Song of the Lioness series (along with my family) helped shape my work ethic. Alanna helped inform the kind of girl I wanted to be and the kind of girl I didn’t. I could do anything the boys could, I would keep trying until it hurt and I would be strong in my convictions.
A good read is all about a story filled with characters that move you, sometimes spurring you on to greatness. Tamora Pierce’s Alanna set me on a path. Firstly by reading her back catalogue of similarly fantastical tales but more importantly by showing what can be achieved by determination and heart – something we can all be reminded of from time to time. It is not the magic or the incredible creatures that make a great fantasy read – it is the characters, the heart and the journey that all happen to take place in a different world. In taking us away from reality, a light can be shone more brightly on our humanity.
May we all have a little more Tamora Piece in our lives.