September 6, 2006
First Test by Tamora Pierce (Book 1 of Protector of the Small Quartet)
Tamora Pierce writes her young-adult fantasy novels in sets of four, focusing on a strong female character who comes of age. Backstory: While Alanna “the Lioness” has become famous as the kingdom of Tortall’s first female knight, she diguised herself as a boy to accomplish the feat. While the king has decreed that girls can now enter training as pages, no one, so far has taken up the challenge. In First Test, Keladry of Mindelan (called Kel) changes this. Unfortunately for her, Lord Wyldon, the pages’ the training-master is a traditionalist who thinks women can’t be warriors. He grudgingly allows her to go on a probationary period of a year in which she proves herself capable of the rigorous training. Kel is strong and determined to prove everyone wrong. While she encounters bullies, she also makes friends. The immortal creatures that invaded Tortall during the Immortals quartet are still attacking villages and farms, and Kel and her fellow pages are summoned to help with this effort.
Tamora Pierce hasn’t lost her touch- the story is just as engaging and action-packed. After just one book, I haven’t grown to love Kel the way I have with Alanna and Daine, but she’s definitely growing on me and I look forward to her further adventures in Page. One difference from the earlier quartets is this is the first protagonist who does not have a magic Gift. This makes her more down-to-earth and easier to relate to, though to us moderners it seems strange to see a 10-year-old being so tough and independent.
Some readers will be dissappointed that Alanna does not feature much in the story, but I can see why Pierce made that choice. It allows Kel to grow more as a character, without having a larger-than-life figure like Alanna overshadow her.