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Review: Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

Friday, May 1, 2015

Song of the Lioness Series
Tamora Pierce

Genre: YA FantasyMedieval Fantasy
Hardback: 568 Pages
Publication: November 1, 2002
by Science Fiction Book Club

"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight."

In a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors, Alanna of Trebond wants nothing more than to be knight of the realm of Tortall. So she finds a way to switch places with her brother, Thom. Disguised as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page at the palace of King Roald. The road to knighthood, as she discovers, is not an easy one. Alanna must master weapons, combat, magic -- and also polite behavior, her temper, and even her own heart. With stubbornness, skill, and daring, she wins the admiration of all around her, and the friendship of Prince Jonathan of Tortall himself. But she also makes an enemy of the prince's uncle, the powerful and charming Duke Roger....


Song of the Lioness is one of my all-time favorite series. It is one of my staple comfort reads, and I re-read it at least once or twice a year.

Out of all of the YA authors with whom I am familiar, Tamora Pierce is the best at writing real characters. For a while now, I've seen a trend in YA lit to write "kickass" heroines. These heroines tend to be super strong one moment and a weeping mess another moment, leaving me confused as to who is the real them. When I think about a truly strong and independent heroine with some vulnerabilities, Alanna is the first heroine to come to mind (followed by Daine and Kel from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals and The Protector of the Small). Alanna is strong, independent, and courageous. When she gets picked on for being small and weak, she doesn't break down. Instead, she suffers quietly while diligently training on her own so that she can prove her strength further down the road. She is also vulnerable in that she is scared of her magic, and she is scared of her womanhood. What makes her real is that these vulnerabilities are integral to her identity. She isn't strong one moment and then her vulnerabilities are exposed the next like many of today's YA heroines. Rather, her vulnerabilities are always with her, and they are important to the plot. Alanna cannot attain true knighthood without embracing her vulnerabilities.

Song of the Lioness is Tamora Pierce's first series, so the writing and character / plot development isn't as well done as her later series. Nevertheless, these are very solid for a debut author. In particular, I want to draw attention to the world building. I love when authors take the time to draw the maps for a fantasy world and when they understand the culture and history of their fantasy worlds so well that they can really develop the world. I felt like I was traveling the world with Alanna, and I could feel the distinct change in culture when Alanna brought me with her across the borders into another nation and even when a foreigner would arrive in Tortall. Few YA fantasy novels possess this power.

Tamora Pierce also writes unique characters. It is rare nowadays to find a novel where I love the supporting cast as much as I love the heroine. George and Faithful especially. George is a paragon for chivalrous thieves, and Faithful is one of the best literary cats ever written. What makes such characters special is that, while I may be able to place them under stock character lists, they are alive. They have their unique histories and character quirks. When they take action or say something, it doesn't feel like it is because the author thought that it would be cool if they did such and such or if such a scene took place. Even if she did, the scenes flow into one another. Again, Song of the Lioness is Tamora Pierce's debut series, so some of the dialogue and action does feel forced, but I can see a pattern in them. Everything that happens builds into the plot, a plot that I very much enjoyed.

The most important takeaway from the Song of the Lioness series is that we can do whatever we set our minds on. Alanna is small and not as strong as the other pages. Instead of giving up, she works harder than everything else. When she learns that she has no talent in swordplay, she drills herself in the basics so long and so hard that her body can respond instinctively to attacks. When she is bullied, she trains herself so that she can beat a bigger boy instead of relying on her friends, who would have gladly fought in her place. In a world that isn't accepting of female knights, she fights to make a place for herself. Alanna is a young woman who never quits until she has tried as hard as she can to overcome a situation.

The Song of the Lioness series has one of my favorite heroines of all time, an exciting world of adventure, and some of the most lovable characters in YA lit. It has romance, but the romance doesn't take over the greater plot. At its heart, Song of the Lioness is a coming-of-age story in which a girl who doesn't belong makes a place of her own through sheer determination and force of will. Alanna is someone with whom I could relate growing up, and her story is one that I will continue to love even as I grow older. I will for sure share this story with my future children and anyone looking for a good book to read.

Rating: 5 stars

  1. Alanna: The First Adventure
  2. In the Hand of the Goddess
  3. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
  4. Lioness Rampant

Similar Books
  • The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce
  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce
  • Kissing
  • Suggested sex
  • Some violence

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