I re-read the entire Alanna: The First Adventure series sometime last year (bought all the paperback books second hand, the same covers I had as a kid and everything). The order of Tamora Pierce’s books set in Tortall go:
2. The Immortals
3. Kel’s books
As you can tell, I did not get all the way to the end, because I instead started reading the Circle of Magic books which I think are excellent. I often wish that the two worlds one day realized that they were connected, and then we’d have a rolicking time getting people to meet.
In any case, I read the Alanna series and remember liking it, and then read The Immortals and remember thinking that all the stakes were getting too high for a books series where I knew that everyone had to always beat the enemy (in a typical Pierce novel, the main character spends about 80% of their time beating off small challenges, and then the last 20% of the book finding and beating a large challenge. So whenever the stakes are high you know that the resolution is going to be…interesting, because it’ll get resolved quickly). Plus Daine is…way too young for Numair.
Then we get to Kel, and while I read this book (because I remembered a lot of it as I went along) I clearly didn’t like her story enough to want to continue. She had no magic, wasn’t Chosen, wasn’t up against any large enemies.
Now that I am older and wiser, and to loop back to the re-reading of Alanna, I find that it didn’t age…terribly well. Don’t get me wrong, Alanna is a great character–stubborn (“difficult,” in the parlance of a recent book diversion discussion chain), steadfast in what she wants, and willing to compromise when it counts. But the books read very much like the first generation of Strong Female Characters (which, again, Alanna was). And a late-in-series course correction to introduce multiple other strong female characters to stave off Specialist Woman In The World syndrome comes off a little heavy handed.
Not so with Kel, who steps literally and metaphorically into the newer generation of Strong Female Characters, down the path beaten clear by Alanna. She’s not so classically difficult, but her personality shines through in everything she does (even if it does make you roll your eyes a lot). I honestly picked this up because of how Pierce, post-publishing, used existing character traits of Kel to extrapolate that she probably becomes aro/ace later in life. I wanted to read a story where such a thing was possible, as opposed to hamfisted (COUGH DuMbLeDoRe Is GaY COUGH).