Alanna: The First Adventure (1983), by Tamora Pierce

“Sure,” I thought facetiously, “that’s an original plot element: girl dresses up as a boy to become a knight…” But Alanna gripped me fro the first moment.  To begin with, she is a twin, so disguising herself as her brother has a certain amount of feasibility. Pierce’s description of the character, too, lends credibility to her lot; ultimately, we are willing to forgive any implausibilities for the engaging and enjoyable story.
Alanna (“Alan”) is gifted with magic, as are many people in her world; she is a healer but wants to become a night, not a lady. Her wise-woman mentor tells her that she must cultivate her gift, in order to offset the violence and death that a knight brings to the world.  The book is of course a bildungsroman of Alanna’s growing into young womanhood while masquerading as a boy—complete with her distress at breasts and her period—but it is also largely about how Alanna comes to balance the two sides of her being: knight and healer. The metaphor is not overt; young readers will imbibe the message women of the 1980s were learning: it is difficult to balance home and autonomy, nurturing of self and others, as women forged their path into what had for so long been exclusively a man’s world.  Alanna is a delightful, while powerful, adventure that will give strength to young female readers, but be equally engaging for boys, as Alanna’s comrades are interesting, well-developed characters in themselves.
            Alanna: The First Adventureis the first of a series of four novels in the Song of the Lioness series; it is followed by In the Hand of the Goddess (1984), The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (1986), and Lioness Rampant (1988).  Alanna also appears in Pierce’s other series, The Immortals, Protector of the Small, and Daughter of the Lioness.


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