In the meantime, though, I had to sate my need for strong female characters in fantasy books some other way. My teachers and family helped - I remember it was my 8th grade teacher who introduced me to Robin McKinley and someone else suggested I read Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
I was an adult by the time I re-discovered Tamora Pierce. Once I did, I made up for lost time and read just about everything else she's ever written. Below are mini-reviews of her series, with my advice on which ones might be of the most interest to adult readers.
The Circle Universe
As I have said before, I haven't read most of these books. I read the first two from the first series and found them to be too young for me, so I never bothered to check out the rest. Currently, there are three series and one stand alone book set in this universe:
- Circle of Magic (Sandry's Book, Tris's Book, Daja's Book, and Briar's Book)
- The Circle Opens (Book 1: Magic Steps, etc)
- The Circle Reforged (Currently the only book in this series is Will Of The Empress)
- Melting Stones (Written initially as an audiobook, the paperback will be issued in August.) Update: I reviewed Melting Stones 8/26.
The Tortall Universe
This is the real meat and potatoes of Pierce's work for me and, as a whole, is my favorite group of YA fantasy books.
- The Song of the Lioness quartet is made up of Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant. This series is really basis on which all the other Tortall series are written. Compared to the other books, and to YA books published these days, the books are pretty short and the writing can be a little simple, especially in Alanna. This is less the case in Lioness Rampant, as Pierce, I think, had gotten more liberty to write the book she wanted to write by then.
- The Immortals: This was the next series set in Tortall, consisting of Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, and The Realms of the Gods. Tortall literally changes in this series, as more more magic enters that world. That's why there are griffins and dragons in these books and the subsequent chronological series, but none in the The Song of the Lioness or Beka Cooper. I don't love this series as much as the others, probably because I just didn't click as well with Daine, but the books are still fun to read.
- Protector of the Small: This is the series that brings me back to unadulterated fangirl love. The series is about a noble girl who decides to become the first female to become a knight after Alanna (now that it is legal in Tortall to do so). And, Kel! You're awesome! The books in this series are First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight. Interestingly, in her Lady Knight acknowledgments, Pierce thanks JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, for proving to publishers that YA books could be longer and more complicated, dealing with subject matters previously considered taboo. I always thought that Pierce was unafraid to deal with "adult" subjects in her books (for example, the frank talks about birth control in the early Alanna books) but, certainly, her books got longer at this point and less likely to break a story up into multiple volumes.
- Tricksters (aka Daughter of the Lioness): These two books, Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen, are about Alanna's daughter Alianne (Aly) and her adventures when she is kidnapped and taken, as a slave, to the Copper Isles. Like Pierce's other heroines, Aly is a strong feisty female. But while she can handle herself in a fight, she is more her father's daughter than her mother's, and is more likely to use cunning and trickery to win her battles than out and out force. These books are quite fun and, while they are sequels to the other Tortall series, are different enough that I don't think they need to be read in order. Please note that finding out who Aly's father is, though, will spoil a few things in the The Song of the Lioness quartet.
- Beka Cooper: These books are prequels (of a sort) to The Song of the Lioness quartet, in that they take place centuries before, in the same world. There's really no character overlap, though, so these books can be read at any point, without fear of spoiling anything in the other books. Please read my reviews of Terrier and Bloodhound for my take on the two books (so far) in Pierce's latest Tortall series.
I hope this post has inspired anyone curious about Tamora Pierce's work to pick up one of her books. And if there are any young readers in your life, especially girls who enjoyed Graceling or some of the other YA fantasy coming out these days, please put one of these books in her hands. I think she'll love it.
Author photo courtesy Tamora Pierce