My daughter and I love Tamora Pierce’s fantasy books for young adults. Pierce has written a number of series set in two different worlds, and all of them are well-written and enjoyable. Our favorite series, hands-down, is “The Protector of the Small” quartet. Set in Tortall and the surrounding nations (the world of Pierce’s “Lioness,” “Wildmage,” “Trickster,” and “Provost’s Dog” series), the “Protector of the Small” books stand out from Pierce’s other works because the heroine is completely non-magical. This is a departure for Pierce, whose young protagonists usually have some form of magical talent.
Keladry of Mindelan is an ordinary girl with an unusual dream: she wants to become a knight. She fulfills her dream not through extraordinary talent but through sheer grit and determination. Although Kingdom law now permits girls to try for their knighthood, Kel is the first to train openly as a girl, and she faces the resulting prejudice, bullying, and even sabotage with dignity, stoicism, and courage. Lord Wyldon, the pages’ training master, objects to Kel’s presence and places her on probation for the first year. Many of the pages are prejudiced against her, and a particularly nasty group tries to drive her away with intimidation, threats, hazing, and malicious tricks. She faces a more personal challenge as well, for Kel has a debilitating fear of heights. Kel deals with these trials as she handles the physical demands of knight-training, with dogged persistence and an unshakeable belief in both her ability and her right to become a knight. Along the way, Kel demonstrates loyalty and constancy to her friends, a growing leadership ability, and an admirable drive to champion the weak and powerless – hence the title, “Protector of the Small.”
First Test is the story of Kel’s first, probationary year as a page. Page continues through the remaining three years of training, including field training and a battle with bandits. In Squire, Kel serves her internship under Lord Raoul of Goldenlake, head of the King’s Own (part of Tortall’s army), who begins training Kel for command. Kel sees quite a lot of real action with the Own, reluctantly adopts a baby griffin, and begins to make a name for herself on the jousting field. Lady Knight tells the story of Kel’s first year as a knight. After the refugee camp she commands is raided by bandits, and the survivors taken as slaves, Kel leads a daring mission into enemy territory to rescue her people. Lady Knight is the darkest of the books. Pierce, a Manhattan resident, was writing it when the World Trade Center was attacked; she admits in an author note that her feelings about war, terrorism, and refugees in the aftermath of 9-11 come through in the tone of the book.
If you haven’t discovered Tamora Pierce yet, you’re in for a treat. The “Protector of the Small” books make great read-alouds or read-alones for teens (and adults — my husband enjoyed the audio versions while driving to work.) Kel’s integrity, tenacity, self-discipline and compassion make her a terrific role model. Pierce is a marvelous storyteller, deftly weaving action, Kel’s inner thoughts, and a wealth of physical detail (such as the arm-numbing shock caused by hitting your opponent’s shield with your lance) to create a believable as well as thoroughly enjoyable tale.
Note: Original covers shown.