The Song of the Lioness is possibly one of my favorite series, even if it’s marketed to teenage girls. Because you know what? I’ve still got some teenage girl in me, and I am not ashamed to say so. It’s a quartet, with the books following the life of Alanna of Trebond, a young noble girl who hatches a plot to disguise herself as a boy and be sent to the royal kingdom to train as a knight, while her twin brother, Thom, goes to the convents to learn magic. More after the jump.
There are so many things I love about Alanna that it’s hard for me to not just write pages and pages on it. But here are the basics:
- Her determination – The swap was her idea. Even when the going gets tough (and it does) she will not flee. She won’t let her friends do her fighting for her either, as there is a brief stint involving a bully who takes advantage of her due to her smaller size.
- Her refusal to let her sex determine her person – All the other boys are bigger and stronger. Her slight build is mentioned repeatedly. Does she let that stop her? No. She takes her burly manservant’s sword and trains with it every morning before her regular lessons.
- Her identity as a woman and as a warrior – Once everyone learns that she’s a woman, Alanna has to deal with people saying that she received her knighthood through trickery and dishonesty. She struggles with the affections of two of her close friends, hesitating to embrace her femininity. But she eventually learns that she doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone, and that she can be both if she only accepts herself.
- Her refusal to let men determine her person – Branching off the last point, at one time in the story, one of her two close friends/lovers proposes marriage. She vacillates, as she wants to travel and do great deeds still. He, however, assumes that she wants to marry him (because, as he thinks, he’s so great, why wouldn’t she want to?) but she sets him straight.
- Her exploration of her personal sexuality – It’s all age appropriate, as there’s nothing too explicit, but Alanna does have sexual relations with three different men on three different occasions. The men all have the utmost respect for her, even the misguided one who assumes that she’d marry him–the two who the relationships don’t work out with are still close to her.
- Her ultimate role as one of the biggest BAMFs in Tortall – After defeating a traitor, who is not only an accomplished knight but also a wizard, in single-handed combat, various foreign diplomats dubious of her skills (as a squire, no less!), becoming shaman of a foreign tribe, she ends the series as the King’s Champion (that’s a BFD, trust me on this) and is a legend.
What I love is how quickly Alanna’s friends accept her, despite discovering her hiding of her sex, and how she upends sweeping generalizations about gender. Reading this definitely shaped my childhood. If Alanna can become a knight, I can do whatever I want too.
Now, onto other aspects of the series. In one of the books, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Alanna rides south and comes across a tribe of desert-people known as the Bazhir. They are not like the white/Western people she is used to, and they are initially suspicious of Alanna. However, she wins most of the tribe members’ respect by defeating a champion proffered by the tribe, and eventually becomes their shaman, even training two girls to be her replacement. Although the Bazhir have stricter laws pertaining to their women than the Tortallans, I think that Pierce does a good job of not prescribing cultural imperialism. The Bazhir are never described as inferior, and Alanna notes that her two trainees have opposing views on whether they should go about veiled or unveiled, or mingle freely with the men. I think that there is appropriate grace regarding the non-white Bazhir, as Jonathan, Alanna’s friend and the Prince of Tortall, eventually becomes the Voice of the tribes, or the one who learns and records their history.
Have you read it? Did you love it? If you haven’t read it yet, you must.
Verdict: Highly recommended to anyone and everyone, especially good for young women between the ages of 10-16. Female protagonist defies odds, kicks ass, takes names, and is fiercely determined to do anything and everything her guy friends do.