It’s book 3 now and Alanna is officially a knight, but that doesn’t mean people have to respect her. She decides to take a vacation from court to avoid the nasty gossips who claim that she seduced men and used magic to earn her position. It turns out to be a bad idea; while galavanting in the desert, she accidently kills a man, and his tribe isn’t very happy about it. Well, I mean, some of them aren’t. The rest are delighted.
The dead guy was the desert tribe’s shaman and, according to their customs, Alanna must now act as their new shaman. That doesn’t bode well for her dreams of action and adventure, though, so Alanna begins training new shamans right away. She takes two girls and a boy under her wing. When she discovers how poorly the tribe treats the girls just because they’re girls, she stubbornly sets out to make them into less buff versions of herself.
And yet, training shamans isn’t Alanna’s only problem. Her trusty magical sword broke. Instead, she finds a sword full of murderous energy that tries consume anyone who touches it. She discovers that the sword was forged by the evil guy she killed in book 2 and must figure out how to rid the sword of its magic before it gets anyone killed. What a professional bad guy. He doesn’t even need to be alive to be evil.
The Quills: 6/10
“You are a terrifying creature,” the Voice told [Alanna] solemnly. “You do not take your place in your father’s tent, letting men make your decisions. You ride as a man, you fight as a man, and you think as a man–“
“I think as a human being,” she retorted hotly. “Men don’t think any differently from women–they just make more noise about being able to.”
-Tamora Pierce, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is, like the previous novels of this series, told in third person from multiple characters’ points of view. I’m sure it’s still medieval fantasy, but I’m not sure anymore if it’s middle-grade appropriate. In this book, Alanna ends up bed-hopping. Nothing explicit is written, but she doesn’t seem like a very good role model, especially for lower middle-graders.
The writing grew by leaps and bounds between books 1 and 2, but between books 2 and 3, nothing has changed much. It’s still not great, but not bad. The pacing is a little better in this book; it’s not trying to cram years and years into a couple hundred pages.
The desert area is a completely different world from the other areas. It has lore, culture, and traditions, and is surprisingly well-crafted for such a short book. However, it does seem a little disconnected from the rest of Tortall.
There are, of course, a plethora of interesting characters introduced. Just like the rest of the series, however, the good guys are very obviously good, and the bad guys are obviously bad.
A few of the previously introduced characters are still present in this book. They’ve progressed and changed growing up but I’m not sure if it’s a permanent change or the typical teenage rebellious phase. There’s not a whole lot of characterization because the novel focusses more on world building.
On another note, the theme of sexism really isn’t subtle. It actually gets shoved in your face: girls can do whatever boys can, and boys get bloated heads because of male privilege. Yes, it is an important theme, but there are ways to go about it more subtly. I’ve also noticed that all the bad guys so far have been, well, guys. Maybe it’s because there just haven’t been many female characters. Still, I find it odd that all evil people are male.
The Roses: 7/10
I enjoyed this novel, but it wasn’t the best. I’m not a big fan of Alanna sleeping around, especially since, by the end of book 2, I had already decided who she should marry (you can probably guess who; I’m a big fan of smart-mouthed thieves). I’ve already finished book 4, actually, and Alanna does sleep around some more in that one.
I found the climax of this novel kind of weird; the rising action didn’t really lead up to it. There was a bit of foreshadowing, but otherwise, it seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
I do like being able to compare Alanna from the previous books to Alanna from this book. She’s kept her most important traits, but at the same time, she’s grown up a bit and changed.
Conclusion: While the writing hasn’t grown as much as the characters have, this third instalment brings a vibrant, exotic, dangerous land to the realm of Tortall.