A couple of weeks ago, I finished In the Hands of the Goddess, the second of Tamora Pierce's vintage (but not tired) tween swords-n-sorcery fantasy series Song of the Lioness. As with the first book, I found world-building and names to be unimaginative, and description inexplicably weighted toward eye and hair color.
Still, the story succeeds on its own terms. Alana continues to learn how to become a knight, and works toward the feared Ordeal that will mark her achievement. That makes a nice structure for the book and for the series. She also has interesting developments with various royalty (all interesting individuals!), rough soldiers twice her size who come to respect her skills, and a goddess.
The outcome of her various concerns is never assured, and the quality of every main character's -um- character is well more than two-dimensional.
As an adult, and a wannabe YA fiction author, I read this with a critical eye for craft, and come away pretty impressed. It's not high art, and it's not as good or original as much else you'll find, but Pierce really nails her character development, and once she gets past the decorative descriptions, they really come alive. I'm especially fond of Sir Miles, whose intentions are opaque to me, but whom Alana trusts at every turn, and of the knight Alex, once squire to her archenemy in this book.
Pierce also does a great job with battle scenes. She doesn't dwell on numbers and formations, but focuses believably and vividly on personal experience, including a very effective rendering of the fog of war. Maybe if you study Medieval crossbow tactics as a hobby, or reenact Hastings every even year, you'd be dissatisfied, but from a general fantasy perspective, this really stands up.
Alana is disguised as Alan for most of the book, and manages to juggle budding romantic interests (I won't say with who) despite this. It's a real balancing act, and the stress of it is worked nicely into the plot.
This doesn't crackle with freshness or originality on many levels, but the series offers a believable and positive female lead, one I would have gladly read about had I ran into this series when I was of the right age.
A few years before Pierce published the first of these, I was reading Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, to which I compare this. McCaffrey invested more in world-building, which I like, but less in character development than Pierce in this series. Both are very appropriate for tween readers of fantasy.
There is a bit of graphic violence and (socially accepted) teen drinking, though not to excess, in Pierce's series. I know this can be an issue for some parents. I would feel comfortable with my 9 year old son reading this. (He just finished the Eragon trilogy (Paolini), is close to finishing the Amber Spyglass (Pullman) - which has gay angels, and the Hobbit.)
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!