I am too old to have read Tamora Pierce as a girl, although I was fortunate enough to discover her books when my daughter was a child and I passed them on to her. Rereading this series over the last weekend, I rediscovered why I had enjoyed them, and, even more importantly, why I wanted to pass them on to my girl.
This was Pierce's first book, and it was published in 1983, long before Harry Potter was a gleam in J.K. Rowling's eye. It is the first appearance of her fictional world of Tortall, a vaguely medieval world, where noble boys are trained as knights and noble girls are trained as ladies. Alanna is one of a pair of magically gifted twins, and when the book begins, she is on her way to a monastery to be trained in various disciplines that will make her marriageable. Her brother, Thom, is headed to court to be trained as a warrior. Her father is a scholar, who pays little mind to his children. Both of the children are square pegs in round holes - Thom doesn't want to be a warrior any more than Alanna wants to be a lady. So, they do a twin flip. Thom goes to the monastery as a boy, to learn to use his magic gifts. Alanna goes to court as a boy - Lord Alan - to become a warrior. The first book in the quartet covers the first part of her training, during the time that she is a page, before she is chosen as a squire.
There are some complaints about the book. Alanna is a bit of a Mary Sue, right down to her purple eyes. I am not sure that purple eyes were quite so much of an obvious clue to the existence of a Mary Sue character in 1983 when this book was published, but the eyes were clearly unnecessary. They do tie into Alanna's gift, but there is really no reason that Pierce couldn't have made her eyes blue, or green, or some other color actually found in nature. The purple eyes are silly, although I can see that they might appeal to young readers. In addition, Alanna is awfully good.
But, in spite of this, Pierce makes it clear that Alanna is not merely gifted, she is also hardworking. She has chosen a difficult path for herself - in all honestly, she likely did not know how difficult it would turn out to be when she chose it - and she walks that path largely on her own. She works hard to master skills that are not second nature to her, and when she is targeted by a bully, she doesn't seek assistance from her friends, she deals privately with the bullying while learning the skills that she needs to defend herself. She is physically smaller, and weaker, than most of her peers, a fact which does not change throughout the course of this book. Her magical gifts are helpful to her, but she doesn't rely on them. She relies on training her body and her mind so that she can physically and mentally meet the challenges that she faces.
There are precious few friends who are taken into her confidence. The thief lord, George Cooper, is one. He learns early that Alanna is a girl, along with his mother. The difficulties that would arise from Alanna's physical changes and her menstruation are glossed over, but still minimally addressed. It isn't until the end of the book that one of her court friends - Jonathan, who is to be king - learns that Alan is actually Alanna. He handles it with much more grace than is probably realistic, although his reaction is refreshingly nonjudgmental, and his recognition that she has met all of the challenges set for her is quite endearing, actually. Alanna does not become sexually active in this book - that comes in book 2 - but George's mother handles the problem of pregnancy quite neatly when Alanna reaches puberty by giving her a magical contraceptive (in addition, if only such a thing existed!), which allows her to take control of her own reproductive future.
The writing in this book isn't up to the standards of Pierce's later books. Like the first book in the Harry Potter series, Alanna, The First Adventure, is written in a simplistic style to appeal to younger children. Some of this style is incompatible with the more adult themes woven into the book. The later books in the quartet adopt a more mature writing style that is, to this adult reader at least, more engaging.
Overall, though, this is a wonderful introduction to Tortall, and to Pierce in general, and Alanna is a kick ass girl who pursues her own objectives and desires with energy and integrity. Lying to her friends doesn't come easily to her, but she believes in the justice of her cause in a society that treats girls and women unfairly. And from my perspective, I agree with her.
I'm not going to lie, the whole "book boyfriend" thing... well, it kind of creeps me out, to be honest.
Now, before anyone grabs their pitchforks, don't think that I'm trying to say that people who like to talk about their "book boyfriends" are weird or something, it's just that I guess it's a phenomenon that's not really for me.
That said, my real complaint with the concept of a "book boyfriend" isn't about the idea of being infatuated with a fictional character. Fictional crushes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! (Nerd alert: I had an enormous crush on Digimon Adventure 02's Ken Ichijouji when I was seven, to the point that I was destroyed when canon paired him with Yolei. Rough times, guys. Rough times.) But to me, the phrase "book boyfriend" is a bit creepy.
I don't know. To me, the words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" imply a relationship, and the idea of having a relationship with a fictional character really takes the concept of a fictional crush too far for me. At that point, I kind of feel like I've fallen off the edge of fandom and down into crazy town. So while I'm sure pretty much no one means it this way, when I hear someone say "book boyfriend" or "book girlfriend", what I really hear is less "I have a crush on this fictional character" and more "this fictional character and I have a bond".
So from here on out, I'm not going to be talking about "book boyfriends"; I'm going to be using "fictional crush". It's semantics, I know, but honestly, I don't feel comfortable with the first term, so... deal?
Anyway! My criteria for a fictional crush? Well, I can fairly safely say that I don't think this is a topic that's going to reflect positively on me! If you happened to read what that nerd alert up their, you'll have caught that one of my childhood fictional crushes (the earliest and strongest I can remember) was a villain. Granted, he reformed before the end of the show... but I wasn't exactly pleased about that. The Digimon Emperor should have been my first clue that I had a bit of a thing for villains.
After Digimon Adventure 02, the whole villain attraction thing never went away. Diving right into insanity here, the next one that I can recall the onset of was--and I swear I'm not joking here--Yami Marik from Yu-Gi-Oh! For anyone familiar with his character, this should be either an incredibly amusing or disturbing fact--and bear in mind that this crush developed when I was around ten years old and may or may not have kicked off thanks to the Marik versus Mai duel. What I'm saying is that I was a strange little kid.
From there, there's really no getting around the fact that I like villains and antiheroes better. I will always prefer Yami Bakura or Seto Kaiba over Yugi Muto or Joey Wheeler; Sesshomaru or Naraku over Inuyasha or Miroku; Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, or Lucius Malfoy over Remus Lupin, Harry Potter, or Sirius Black; and Kish or Deep Blue over Masaya (Tokyo Mew Mew).
Now, don't get me wrong. I like villains and antiheroes, but I don't enjoy the "Draco in Leather Pants" phenomenon. It irks me when a fandom or part of it attempts to paint a villainous character as "just misunderstood" or an antiheroic character as purely heroic. And it infuriates me when a character who by all definitions should be the work's villain is held up as the work's hero. Characters like Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, and Patch of Hush, Hush do nothing for me. Masking villainous behavior under the guise of romantic gestures is one of the quickest ways to Squick me, and after that, I check the fuck out.
But a character like Sylar (Heroes), the Joker, or Roger (Song of the Lioness) gets me every time.
So what about you? Hate villains and love heroes, sidekicks, and love interests? Let me know some of your fictional crushes in the comments below!
After a few lame #BookBlogWriMo posts--and that lameness is totally on me, not the event or its creator, of course!--over the last few days, here's one where I can really shine. I read a ton as a kid, and while there are plenty of books that didn't stick out in my memory (some to the point of forgetting their titles to this very day), there are some that still have a really fond place in my memory.
First and foremost, if you want to take a glimpse at all the books I read during my childhood years, you can check out my shelves at Goodreads. 1993-2003 covers everything I can recall reading between my birth and the end of elementary school; 2004-2006 covers middle school; and 2007-2011 covers my high school years (plus a few months before and after I turned eighteen).
Let's do this in chunks, shall we?
A lot of little kids have an animal phase sometime after they learn to empathize with nonhuman creatures. My animal phase was long, intense, and fostered by series like Ben M. Baglio's Animal Ark and Dolphin Diaries, as well as Jeanne Betancourt's Pony Pals.
Books like Mummies in the Morning from Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series and Kristina Gregory's Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile from the Royal Diaries series helped foster my early childhood obsession with ancient Egypt.
Series like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter (of course!), Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness, Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest (and its sequels, Deltora Shadowlands and Dragons of Deltora), and Jackie French Koller's The Keepers helped make fantasy one of my two favorite genres to this very day.
My other favorite genre is horror, and spooky stories like Grace Maccarone's The Haunting of Grade Three, Mary Downing Hahn's Wait Till Helen Comes, and R.L. Stine's The First Horror helped solidify my love for all* things frightening. *Well, most. I don't do torture porn.
But I also enjoy mysteries, a genre which I was first introduced to through Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries (with my favorite being the quite-spooky-when-you're-four story, The Haunted Hotel) and continued to explore with series like classic Nancy Drew and Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitter's Club Mysteries.
I discovered manga via Miwa Ueda's Peach Girl, and ventured on with series like Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi's Tokyo Mew Mew and Matsuri Hino's MeruPuri.
Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series helped get me into historical fiction (and I have a particular fondness for historical princess/queen stories thanks to both it and Royal Diaries), and her books Mary, Bloody Mary and Doomed Queen Anne, along with Ann Rinaldi's Nine Days A Queen, got me through a brief period of Tudor fixation.
Of course, like a lot of 2000s teens, I had a vampire phase, and the books that got me through that admittedly rough period included romance-y stuff like Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses (perfectly average upon rereading), and R.L. Stine's books, Dangerous Girls (didn't hold up upon rereading) and One Last Kiss (haven't been able to find for rereading!). But I also read horror-focused vampire stories, including Sebastian Rook's Vampire Plagues (still totally loved upon last rereading) and Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak (rereading... someday).
There were other favorites that didn't correspond with trends, of course. Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a book that I read thinking there would be actual witches, but totally loved even when it turned out to be about puritanical witch persecution and its victims... though I never actively sought out more books like it. (The time period and subject matter weren't what hooked me with this one--it was the emotional impact of Speare's writing.)
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was an awesome series that I got into long after I should have, but totally loved when I finally sat down to read it (and yes, I do like the ending in spite of what almost everyone else seems to think). But while I love that series, I haven't managed to read any similar series yet--with perhaps the exception of the first book in the Templeton Twins series, which uses a "Lemony Narrator".
And then there was Nancy Springer's I am Morgan le Fay, which really made me a bit obsessive toward that particular mythological figure for a while (and, to a lesser extent, Arthurian myth), but I never really got around to reading many Arthurian books besides Nancy Springer's other endeavor, I Am Mordred... which unfortunately wasn't as impressive to me.
(I'm hoping to reread I Am Morgan le Fay soon, and I really hope it holds up!)
Of course, after writing all this out, I have to say I'm fairly interested to realize that most of my favorite stories growing up were written by female authors... except when it came to my vampire phase, which was inexplicably populated by male authors' books! I'm honestly fairly fascinated, and I'd love to someday take the time to break down my author stats to look at sex, race/ethnicity, nationality, etc.
So what about you? Have you read any of these books--besides the all-but-obligatory Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events? And what were your childhood favorites? Feel free to leave a comment below!