Alanna: The First Adventure

Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure (2005 ed). 240 Pages. Simon Pulse. $6.99

Song of the Lioness: Book One

This is one of those books which is older than I am, but is still in print, which is a sure mark of a good story. I originally owned the 1989 paperback, but since it’s in a box somewhere, I’ve got a new copy of the 2005 printing. Every couple years (or sometimes only a few months apart) I re-read this series, and I enjoy it every time.

Alanna and Thom of Trebond- nearly identical twins- are both dissatisfied with the futures their father has chosen for him. Alanna dreams of being a lady knight, not a lady stuck in a convent. Thom wants to be a sorcerer instead of a knight. The ten-year-olds come up with a potentially brilliant plan; they’ll trade places. Alanna will pose as Alan, and Thom will start his sorcerer training at the convent (where young boys learn basic magic).

“Alan” arrives at the palace a few short weeks later, eager to start as a page. Despite being a bit clumsy at first, Alanna proves to be one of the best pages of her year, excelling in nearly all of her lessons and putting in extra hours of training. The other pages- and even some squires- are impressed by “Alan,” who becomes one of Prince Jonathan’s most trusted friends.

Alanna must make several ethical decisions; she hates and fears her magic, but to continue denying it will cost her friend his life. She is haunted by images of a dark city, and somehow feels drawn to it, but knows it is incredibly dangerous. As much as she trusts her friends, is it safe to let any of them know  her secret?

The Song of the Lioness series is one of my favorites, and I really love all of the books set in Tortall. That said, having read Ms. Pierce’s more recent work, it is clear she has really grown as an author since she wrote this book nearly 30 years ago. It deals with some mature themes- Alanna gets her period, and there are some sexual references- but I feel that children can handle this*. It was originally targeted at higher-elementary, I believe.

The characters are fun, but take a long time to develop. Alanna grows up, but it happens in leaps and bounds; months disappear, days are stretched into several chapters, and time does not flow smoothly. However, the mundane does not make a good story, so it’s understandable that the boring, routine days are cut out.

As far as publishing goes, I’m surprised there is not an omnibus edition**; Ms Pierce herself has said that J.K. Rowling taught her that kids will read long books***, so it surprises me that they remain in individual volumes.

The Quick Version:

With a strong female lead, and a plot which starts at the beginning, this book opens the series well. It is not my favorite; I prefer older Alanna, but issues which real girls face are dealt with fairly well. The adventure itself is fun, and at times even a bit scary. The drama of the climax grabs and doesn’t let go until everything is over. It gets a 4/5, because it’s good, but the books later in the series are better.

Want it? Pick it up on Amazon, or get it through Swaptree.

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*I spent a lot of time arguing in a children’s literature class about whether kids can handle this sort of thing. I’m a strong supporter of letting the child decide, and while I could handle this at 8 years old, not every child will be able to. It takes on new meaning when you reach the “young adult” demographic- girls who have experienced puberty are more likely to understand and sympathize with what is going on with Alanna.

** Like the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, which were released in individual volumes and then combined into Omnibus editions.

*** Apparently nobody had considered how much children like bragging about having read a 700+ page book… (Also, on a Harry Potter note, I don’t believe I’ll review them any time soon. I’m still angry about the end.)

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12 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

12 responses to “Alanna: The First Adventure

  1. I always think people make too big a fuss about sex in books, particularly compared with how much fuss they’ll make about graphic violence in books. I know I self-censored as a kid: if I read a book that made me feel uncomfortable (with violence or sex or anything, really), I stopped reading it.

    I have a little bit of guilt surrounding the sexy parts of these books. When I was in middle school, I was addicted to Mercedes Lackey, whose books were ever so full of sex; when my little sister was in middle school, she asked my mother whether she was old enough to read Tamora Pierce, and my mother asked me and my big sister. And we both said no. We fetched the Alanna books and showed my mum the sex scenes in them, and she told my little sister to wait until high school. Not really fair, especially considering how rarely my mother curtailed our reading.

    (Of course the self-justifying part of me thinks my little sister was foolish for asking permission instead of just reading them.)

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    • It’s a strange line, ya know? I feel like a lot of kids/y.a. books let you fill in the blanks yourself, which can actually make things worse, in some cases.

      I never asked to borrow books off my mom’s shelves, and though she wasn’t into erotica, she definitely read a lot of those fantasy books where characters hook up with each other in strange places- like time machines. If I’d asked, I don’t know what she’d have said.

      I also feel like Tamora Pierce dealt with it a lot better than some authors. It’s there, but it’s not really… explicit.

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      • Bethany

        I agree. I think Tamora Pierce was very mild in her storytelling about sexuality. Not in a vague way that leaves more to the imagination. Just enough, but not too much. And it worked without being gross (which it can be) or awkward.
        I read them when I was 14/15 though. I was reading much dirtier things by then.

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  2. Bethany

    I agree that there should be an ominbus edition. Her other series have been quite larger (Terrier for example).

    And now, I’m curious about you footnote. How did the Harry Potter ending upset you?

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    • Good writers don’t need epilogues, and they don’t need to release interviews later explaining what happened to major characters. It should be in the book, or not at all.

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  3. Emily and Her Little Pink Notes

    I have never read a book by Tamora Pierce, I guess she is one of those writer really popular for english speaking kids and not so much for the others.
    I keep reading excellent reviews , It’s now officially on my TBR list.

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    • Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite YA authors- along with Robin McKinley, Patricia C Wrede, and Diana Wynne Jones.

      If you read Pierce, start with Alanna and go through them in the order she wrote them. They’re all much better when you go chronological.

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      • I actually started with the Trickster books and ended up working my way backward (by series I mean, not by book… that would be odd), but I would definitely recommend reading them in order as well, if only to make sense of the references to earlier characters and events.

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      • Bethany

        DON’T START WITH THE TRICKSTER BOOKS!!!! I feel that it is her worst series. Although it’s not bad, it’s not NEARLY as good as the others.

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  4. Eris

    I read A:TFA when I was ten or eleven, and since I hadn’t gotten The Talk yet at that point, the sex parts kind of went *whoosh* over my head (i.e. I didn’t really realize what was going on). I feel like that it’s subtle enough that kids wouldn’t be bothered by it, if they notice at all. I didn’t/wasn’t.

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    • I don’t recall being particularly bothered by it, but I always wonder if I’m alone in this, or if others feel the same way. (Glad I wasn’t.)

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      • Samantha

        I read these books when I 10 and am now re-reading them for book reports as a freshman in high school. I never notices the sex parts, I just thought it meant they were cuddling! oh well!

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