I was introduced to Tamora Pierce and the realm of Tortall in 1986 by a classmate of mine named Alec Deleon. He was reading a copy of Alanna: The First Adventure while in the library at lunchtime. I asked him why he was reading a book about a GIRL when he was a BOY in that know-it-all way that ten-year-olds have. He said I should try it since I liked The Hero & the Crown by Robin McKinley. Evidently that little jerk was actually paying attention to the oral book reports we’d given in class the week before. Little did I know that he was starting me on a lifelong journey and that I’d owe him a huge favor I’d never be able to repay.
The Lioness Quartet featuring Alanna of Trebond was the first of many series that Ms Pierce wrote about the fictional realm of Tortall. It is wonderful and kick-ass and filled with magic and feminism and I still recommend it, but it ceased to be my favorite Tortallan series when the Protector of the Small Quartet was released in the early aughts.
When we are first introduced to Keladry of Mindelan in First Year, she is the first female that has chosen to begin training as a knight in Tortall since it was made legal for girls to do so. She knows that she is facing an enormous challenge and that many want her to fail – even some of her own extended family. We quickly find out that she has enormous courage, a deep-seated sense of honor, a talent for appearing calm even when emotions are roiling beneath the surface, an abiding love for animals of all shapes and sizes, and zero tolerance for bullying of any kind. What she doesn’t have is the Gift of Magic that many of her fellow pages have.
Kel is not perfect, but she is an excellent, very relatable role model. Her personal growth, fight against the patriarchy, and adventurous quests through the books First Year, Page, Squire and Lady Knight make for quick reading even as they impart good values without being preachy. And by good values, I don’t mean some false religious rhetoric, but values we should all strive to live by.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the plots because I want to avoid spoilers, but if you have a teen or tween that likes fantasy, I highly recommend anything by Tamora Pierce, but The Protector of the Small Quartet in particular. And, hell, I re-read these every year or two. They’re really good for anyone.