Alanna and her twin brother Thom are about to be sent off to lady- and knight-school, respectively. It’s too bad her brother’s a wimp and she’s a fighter. Alanna doesn’t want to learn to be a noblewoman who flirts, sits primly and accepts favours from men, so she comes up with the idea to switch places.
A few forged letters and horse rides later, Alanna settles down in the palace as a page named Alan, while Thom is off to the City of the Gods to become a great sorcerer…named Thom. Does anyone else think Alanna’s getting the short end of the stick here? Or maybe I just want to see Thom trying to be a girl.
Anyhow, her four years as a page are just the first steps for Alanna. The road isn’t easy. She must overcome bullies, fevers, puberty, large swords, doubts, and a pile of homework that threatens to smoosh her at any moment. Luckily for her, she makes some allies along the way: a prince, a thief, and a historian. (Walk into a bar…)
The Quills: 5/10
“You’re here, Alan of Trebond, to learn what it is to be a knight and a noble of Tortall. It’s not easy. You must learn to defend the weak, to obey your overlord, to champion the cause of right. Someday you may even be able to tell what right is.” It was impossible to tell if he was joking, and Alanna decided not to ask.
-Tamora Pierce, Alanna The First Adventure
This story is nearly told in third person omniscient, with the thoughts of only a few characters going unrevealed. Although Goodreads and my library classify this book as young adult, it sounds very middle grade. Not even upper middle grade. It is a lower to mid-middle grade medieval fantasy.
The writing isn’t the flashiest or the most elegant, but it does lay the story out simply, which is suitable for younger audiences. There are, however, a few phrases (mainly comebacks the characters use) that are repeated so often they sound like catchphrases and begin to wear with overuse.
The world is large and even has history and mythology, but it is only barely sketched out. It is too large and foreign a world to be stuffed into such a small book. The same occurs with events; the book covers an entire four years in its measly not-quite 300 pages. A lot of things are thus quickly skimmed over by narration, and the build-up to the climax doesn’t really happen. The climax is sort of just plopped down.
The characters are interesting and diverse, but like the world and the story, there are too many of them to get to know. Alanna is somewhat characterised, but the rest are pretty much flat and one-dimensional. Not even two-dimensional. Oddly, sometimes they break character. One moment, Alanna sounds as clueless as any other 10-year-old and the next she’s spouting phrases more suited to adults or older teens.
There is a lot of narration because of the attempt to cram everything into the book. This carries the book along through time at a brisk pace, but also slows down the action when it really happens, leaving a disjointed sort of feeling.
There are some things that aren’t very believable, but the book’s sense of fun tries to make up for it. Even the stuffy adults get in a snide comment or two.
The Roses: 6.5/10
I enjoy books about medieval times and especially like the added twist of magic and the gods interfering with their lives. Although the twins-doing-a-switcheroo thing isn’t new, this book isn’t either (published 1983) so it might have actually been a trendsetter. I like a lot of the characters, flat though they may be. I’m willing to give the world and the characters the benefit of the doubt, as they’ll certainly grow and develop through the rest of the series.
There are a lot of worn old tropes in this book, and at moments it feels like it’s heavy-handedly trying to teach me a lesson: don’t lose against bullies, girls are as good as boys, you can do anything if you put in the effort. If I were still in middle school, I may have liked it a lot more, but again, if I were in middle school, the writing style may be a little old and odd to read.
I will be reading and reviewing the rest of this series because I picked up some of the other Tortall universe books and the writing does become great. I want the whole history if I’m going to read the other series.