Flashback Fridays: ” A knight must set things right . . .”

You’re the first girl to apply for training to be a knight in Tortall since that law was changed to allow women to be knights.  But the training master isn’t convinced … and he’s insisting you go through a trial year first.  It’s not fair, but you’re determined to show everyone that you can and will succeed . . .

Do you remember:

First Test by Tamora Pierce (Random House, c1999)

First off, I’m a huge Tamora Pierce fan. Have been one since the first time I cracked open Alanna: The First Adventure.  There’s an irresistible combination of magic, adventure and a sword-swinging female protagonist.  After that first quartet came The Immortals, featuring Daine with her incredible wild magic, interfering deities and dramatic warfare.  So when I first picked up First Test . . . I admit my younger self was sort of put out.  Yes, here was a girl going to be the first to enter training as a girl in Tortall. But right away, Alanna’s mostly out of the picture.  Keladry is pretty ordinary looking, stoic rather than hot-headed, good at what she does, but not a shining star of talent.  She’s not magical, she doesn’t have a tragic back story.  And the juvenile reader I was rebelled because I selfishly wanted what I’d read in the last two quartets.  Silly me.

Over fifteen years later, I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy this quartet so much more.  Part of it was giving up the immaturity of wanting to read only what I’d expected to read, and enjoyed reading before.  Part of it was opening my eyes to the truth, both about Keladry and about myself.  Kel is–in some ways–very ordinary, and that was what had made me dislike her at first.  Now she’s not really ordinary, she’s amazing and complex and one of those heroes you really come to admire.  But unlike so many other characters Kel is closer to being “us” the readers.  Tortall in all its magic and vividness is still there, but  the Protector of  the Small quartet reminds readers of the more mundane world that supports it all.  Not every knight will be the god-touched hero who must face her battles alone.  Not every crisis is the ultimate evil threatening the kingdom.  Keladry gathers friends on all levels–and champions those who would be overlooked by others.  She’s the girl who perseveres as a girl in a world that isn’t quite willing to accept her.  She’s the trainee with a level head and a giving spirit who inspires quietly, but powerfully.

Back as a kid, I’d have given a lot to be red-haired, purple-eyed Alanna.  She’s still my favorite, mind you, but this quartet makes you realize many of Alanna’s shortcomings–and her limits.  And as a mature adult I’ve realized I’m not really a match for Alanna in temperament, and having a great destiny romancing princes, saving kingdoms and defeating ultimate villains is a bit beyond me.  Keladry on the other hand . . .  we’ve all met people that are inspiring leaders like her.  We can recognize bit of ourselves in her –even if we might not have her particular life and adventures.  Alanna is special with a capital “S”.  The kind of special we all wanted to be as a kid.  Keladry is inspiring, strong, and unswerving in her convictions.  She risks her own training as a knight to rescue her maid.  She confronts the King and Queen about the unfair treatment of servants.  The title of the series is good in that it evokes her defense and protection of those often overlooked.  And what is so important about what Keladry does is that much of it can be taken and applied to the world in which we live every day.  We may not be training to become knights, but maybe we will  be breaking new ground by stepping into a sphere where others don’t think we fit. We’ll have to prove to them otherwise.  Maybe we have to stand up to the unfairness others suffer–and risk our own comfort to see that realized.  Maybe we will have to take charge, of a family, or group, or in a crisis, and realize that we can do that.  Keladry is so powerful, in part because she’s not so special, because she’s not magical or singular.  She’s a role model.

Thank you, Ms. Pierce, for writing Kel as well as Alanna and Daine . . . and all your other heroes .  May they continue to inspire generations of readers to come.

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on October 11, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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