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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2212

Author: Tamora Pierce (b. 1954)

First published: 1983–88

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of plot: Fantasy Middle Ages

Locales: Tortall, Tusaine, Maren, Sarain, the Roof of the World

Principal characters

Alanna of Trebond , a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to become...

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Author: Tamora Pierce (b. 1954)

First published: 1983–88

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of plot: Fantasy Middle Ages

Locales: Tortall, Tusaine, Maren, Sarain, the Roof of the World

Principal characters

Alanna of Trebond, a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight

Thom of Trebond, her twin brother, a sorcerer

Coram Smythesson, her manservant

Jonathan of Conté, the prince and later king of Tortall, her friend and sometimes love interest

George Cooper, the king of Tortall's thieves, her friend and later husband

Ralon of Malven, a.k.a. Claw, a bully and later conspirator in an attempted coup

Roger of Conté, Jonathan's cousin, a sorcerer and adversary of Alanna

The Great Mother Goddess, a divine entity who watches over Alanna

The Story

Published by Tamora Pierce between 1983 and 1988, the Song of the Lioness series consists of four books: Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant. At the start of Alanna: The First Adventure, ten-year-old Alanna and her twin brother, Thom, are unhappy with what the future has in store for them. In accordance with their father's wishes, Alanna is going to be sent to study at a convent school, while Thom is set to enroll in page training in Corus, the capital of the kingdom of Tortall. The day before they are set to leave, the twins decide to switch places: Alanna will disguise herself as a boy and begin page training, while Thom will go to the convent school and study magic until he is old enough to pursue advanced training. Like her brother, Alanna has the magical ability known as the Gift, but she fears her ability and avoids using it. After gaining the unwilling assistance of her manservant, Coram, Alanna travels to the capital, where she begins her training under the name of Alan. At the palace, Alanna befriends several of her fellow pages, including thirteen-year-old Jonathan of Conté, the heir to the throne. She also befriends George Cooper—a teenager who rules the thieves and becomes the first to learn Alanna's true identity—as well as Myles of Olau, a knight and teacher who becomes a father figure to her.Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Over the next several years, Alanna progresses as a page and overcomes various challenges, including physical setbacks and painful encounters with bully Ralon of Malven, who ultimately leaves court after Alanna defeats him in a fight. She is also forced to begin using the Gift, particularly when the sweating sickness hits the capital, killing many of its residents and endangering Jonathan's life. This illness, which is later revealed to be magical in origin, is sent by Jonathan's cousin Duke Roger of Conté in an attempt to remove Jonathan and others from the line of succession. Roger himself later arrives in Corus and begins to instruct the pages and squires in magic, but Alanna grows to distrust him. Toward the end of her time as a page, Alanna travels to the southern city of Persopolis, in Tortall's Great Southern Desert. There, Roger goads Jonathan into traveling to the Black City, an abandoned city rumored to be the home of malevolent beings and feared by the region's native Bazhir people. Alanna accompanies Jonathan to the Black City, where they defeat the ancient beings, known as the Ysandir. Jonathan learns that Alanna is truly a girl in the process, but he nevertheless asks her to become his squire once he is knighted, and she accepts.

At the start of In the Hand of the Goddess, Alanna, now nearly fifteen and serving as Jonathan's squire, is traveling in the forest when she meets the Great Mother Goddess. Alanna leaves the encounter with a token from the goddess as well as a new companion—a talking cat named Faithful. The goddess's assistance proves essential during Alanna's years as a squire, as she faces multiple attempts on her life. When a territory dispute leads to war between Tortall and neighboring Tusaine, Alanna accompanies Jonathan to the front, where the troops are under the command of Duke Roger. Alanna is captured by Tusaine under suspicious circumstances, and Roger forbids her friends from rescuing her. Jonathan, however, leads an unsanctioned mission into Tusaine-controlled territory and frees Alanna, ensuring that the enemy does not learn her secret.

Alanna's final years as a squire bring many changes. During this time, she and Jonathan begin a romantic relationship. During the Midwinter celebration following her eighteenth birthday, she undergoes the Ordeal of Knighthood. A vision she experiences during the ordeal, however, prompts her to break into Roger's room in the palace; there, she finds physical evidence of Roger's plot against the royal family. She reveals the evidence to the king in the middle of the Midwinter feast, and when Roger accuses her of lying, she agrees to a trial by combat. While Alanna duels Roger, her clothing is torn, and the court learns of her true identity. Enraged by this revelation, Roger attempts to kill the royals as well as Alanna, but Alanna kills him first.

The series' third book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, finds Alanna and Coram traveling through the Great Southern Desert. While resting at an oasis, they are attacked by a group of raiders whom they drive off with the assistance of Bazhir warriors from the Bloody Hawk tribe. Alanna and Coram accompany the Bazhir to their camp, where they are met with hostility by the tribe's shaman, Akhnan Ibn Nazzir. After Alanna proves herself, tribe leader Halef Seif inducts her into the tribe, and she soon befriends a trio of magically gifted teenagers, Kara, Kourrem, and Ishak. Akhnan Ibn Nazzir remains hostile to Alanna and eventually attacks her, dying in the process. With the tribe's shaman dead, Alanna is required to remain with the Bloody Hawk in that capacity until a new shaman can be trained, and she sets out to teach Kara, Kourrem, and Ishak to use their innate abilities. Ishak dies shortly thereafter while attempting to use magic he cannot control, but Kara and Kourrem's training progresses well, and the two are eventually initiated as the tribe's shamans.

While Alanna is with the Bazhir, the tribe is visited by Ali Mukhtab, a spiritual leader known as the Voice of the Tribes whom Alanna first met when visiting Persopolis as a page. Ali Mukhtab reveals that he is dying and that he wishes for Jonathan to become the new Voice of the Tribes, in the hope that linking the future king to the Bazhir will end the conflicts between the Bazhir and Tortall's government. Jonathan agrees to become the Voice of the Tribes. He also proposes marriage to Alanna, whom he assumes will say yes. Hurt by his assumption and unwilling to give up her freedom and hard-earned knighthood to become queen, she fights with Jonathan, bringing their relationship to an end. Later, Alanna travels north to the city of Port Caynn, where she visits and eventually becomes romantically involved with George. She learns that George's control over Tortall's thieves is threatened by a new challenger known as Claw, who attempts to poison George and his companions but fails. On All Hallows, Alanna's magical Gift is mysteriously drained, and she later learns that Thom borrowed it to conduct a magical experiment. George returns to Corus to confront Claw, while Alanna returns to the Bazhir for a short time, accompanied by Coram. Halef Seif soon tasks her with visiting a sorceress in the hill country with whom he is acquainted. Arriving in time to prevent the sorceress from being burned at the stake by a local religious leader, Alanna receives a mysterious document from the sorceress before the woman succumbs to her injuries.

In the series' final book, Lioness Rampant, Alanna, Coram, and Faithful travel east through the country of Maren with the document she received from the sorcerer. The document is revealed to be a map to the Dominion Jewel, a famed magical gem that enables rulers to perform extraordinary acts and bring glory and prosperity to their countries. Alanna believes that presenting the Dominion Jewel to Tortall's king will prove once and for all that she deserves her knighthood, and she and her companions embark on a quest to claim the jewel, which is hidden in a mountainous region known as the Roof of the World. Along the way, Alanna meets martial artist Liam Ironarm and the two begin a short-lived relationship. While making their way through Sarain, which is in the middle of a civil war, Alanna's party encounters a group of refugees that includes Thayet jian Wilima, the daughter of Sarain's warlord, and her bodyguard, Buriram Tourakom. Thayet and Buri join Alanna's group as well, and the party travels to the Roof of the World. There, Alanna braves a mountain pass alone in the middle of a blizzard, defeating the Dominion Jewel's ancient guardian and claiming the gem for Tortall.

After Alanna has recovered enough to travel, her group sets out for Tortall. Much has changed in their absence: both the king and the queen have died, leaving Jonathan as acting ruler prior to his coronation. Even more shocking, however, is the news that Thom, having been goaded by Roger's followers into proving his strength as a sorcerer, has brought Roger back from the dead. While the resurrected Roger claims to have no remaining magic of his own, nor any desire to take the throne for himself, Alanna remains suspicious of him. Her suspicion proves well founded, as Roger and his followers attempt to stage a coup on the day of Jonathan's coronation. Among the conspirators is Claw, who is revealed to be Alanna's childhood bully Ralon of Malven; a foreign princess and several of Tortall's nobles are also in on the conspiracy. In addition to sending men at arms to attack the palace, Roger uses magic to trigger earthquakes in the capital, adding to the chaos. Alanna and her allies succeed in putting an end to the coup, with Jonathan stopping the earthquakes with the power of the Dominion Jewel, although Thom, Liam, and Faithful die in the process. Tracking Roger into the catacombs under the palace, Alanna kills her enemy for a second time, and his body is destroyed for good. In the aftermath, Alanna returns to the Bazhir for a time. Jonathan and Thayet announce their betrothal, and when George visits Alanna and proposes to her, she accepts.

Critical Evaluation

Over the course of its four books, the Song of the Lioness series follows Alanna through a coming-of-age narrative that is in many ways typical yet features surprises and twists on the genre's archetypes that distinguish the series from others in its genre. The first two books in the series, Alanna: The First Adventure and In the Hand of the Goddess, feature many of the challenges and milestones that one might expect from a coming-of-age tale that takes place over more than seven years, including the formation of lifelong friendships, the defeat of bullies, and the transitions from page to squire to knight. At the same time, as a girl and later young woman who has disguised herself as a boy, Alanna must navigate all the standard challenges as well as an additional array of difficulties that render her story all the more intriguing. The third and fourth books, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lioness Rampant, diverge structurally from their predecessors, depicting significantly shorter periods in Alanna's life that are no less formative than her earlier education. Pierce demonstrates that while Alanna learned much at the palace, her experiences with the Bazhir and on the road to the Roof of the World teach her perhaps even more important lessons.

As the first of Pierce's novels set in Tortall and the neighboring countries, the Song of the Lioness novels set the stage for much of Pierce's later work, establishing a rich world featuring an array of cultures, magical disciplines, and religions. The world first described in Alanna: The First Adventure would go on to be the setting of more than fifteen novels total, including two books about Alanna's daughter, Alianne. Perhaps more important, however, is the way in which the Song of the Lioness books signaled Pierce's approach to realism as well as feminism. Pierce does not shy away from depicting realistic aspects of Alanna's life, including menstruation, use of birth control, and sexual relationships. Her later Tortall books continue this approach and also deal with topics such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues; body image; sexual assault; and other themes that are of concern both to her characters and to the teenage readers of her novels. Thanks to their frank treatment of women's issues as well as their depiction of a capable female warrior who balances her work as a knight with her strong interpersonal relationships, the books in the Song of the Lioness series are often praised as important contributions to the body of feminist young adult fantasy literature.

Further Reading

  • Busis, Hillary. "Adapt This: Tamora Pierce's 'Song of the Lioness.'" Entertainment Weekly, 3 Oct. 2013, ew.com/article/2013/10/03/tamora-pierce-alanna-movie. Accessed 31 Dec. 2016.
  • "The Song of the Lioness." Tamora Pierce, www.tamora-pierce.net/series/the-song-of-the-lioness. Accessed 31 Dec. 2016.
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