Move over Alanna, here comes Kel!

18 Aug

“I had the magic, don’t you see, and the hand of the Goddess on me. Everyone could and did say I was a freak, one of those once-a-century people. No one else needs to strive for what I did, because they couldn’t reach it.” Alanna smiled crookedly. “But you, bless you, you are real.”

We’re coming back to Tamora Pierce, because she’s such a fantastic and prolific writer, and because her Protector of the Small series provides an interesting comment on the Song of the Lioness Quartet, with which we started. This series takes place two decades after Alanna’s, and focuses on young Keladry of Mindelan, who decides she also wants to be a knight. Though it is “legal” for women to become knights, no one has done it since Alanna. Enter Kel, a tall, sturdy girl blessed with enough stubbornness to choke a mule. She weathers prejudice from her instructors, harassment from her peers, and disapproval from pretty much everyone else to become a knight. But she does it by golly, and does it with style!

Kel’s tormentors to christen her “the Lump,” due to her refusal to rise to taunts – but I actually think this nickname holds some positive truth to it. When Kel sets her mind to something, she doesn’t back down. She isn’t naturally good at training, and even if she were, she’s bullied so badly she wouldn’t have a chance to begin with. But Kel grits her teeth and powers through, without magic, or tricks, or anything except her own determination. Not that her determination doesn’t prove weapon enough – Kel stands up to her bullies and proves beyond a doubt that she’s just as good as, if not better than (which in most cases she is) her male classmates. Plus she’s good at math! As Alanna so succinctly puts it in the opening quote of the post, Kel is real. Pierce gave us the magical heroine, now she gives us her realistic counterpart.

Kel’s story is also much more complex. She deals with a whole range of problems that never cropped up in Alanna’s excapades: an unrequited crush on her best friend, the problems with being the youngest in a big family with limited finances, sexual harrassment, class inequality. And while each book is interesting and exciting, Kel’s adventures aren’t all glorious tales of derring-do: her first “quest” as a knight is to run a refugee camp. She doesn’t go haring off after treasures or evil magicians, or man-eating monsters. Instead she breaks up fights, digs latrines, and writes duty rosters. No divine missions, just the day-to-day life of a solider.

It seems to me that Pierce’s point is simple. You don’t have to go find a magical crystal to have an interesting life that is worthy of a story (although it is worth noting that she does sneak in an evil magician or two, and maybe some man-eating monsters). Normal people have their own adventures, and Kel’s no slouch! She doesn’t need some sort of heroic platform to start from, she builds her own, and climbs the stairs by herself. That’s B.A., no mistake!

My favorite of the books

The Protector of the Small Series:

1. First Test

2.  Page

3.  Squire

4. Lady Knight

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