I’m in an old second-hand bookshop in Notting Hill in London. Dust floats in the air as sunlight filters in through the windows, dancing to some unheard music. I’ve escaped from school early, feigning a headache, desperate to avoid the crush at the gates.
Today I would not suffer the shoving bodies and the stampede down the staircases. I wouldn’t be avoiding footballs thrown over head and arms waving about. No, instead I was amongst the peace and quiet of books. Books didn’t clamour and push. They welcomed and were patient.
It was in this bookshop, one that still stands today, and I often visit when I have the chance, that I searched. I scoured the shelves for a very specific author. I had been looking for weeks, popping into as many second-hand bookshops as possible. Peering at the fiction
section of a charity shop, eyes trained to find the words Tamora Pierce. The author that brought to life a world of knights and mages and intrigue.
I started reading these books as a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve years old, but they still hold their charm and magic to this day. Now it’s quite difficult for me to do all the books she has written justice in one post, so I thought I’d focus on the themes that lie throughout her series: Strong, incredible, flawed, independent, courageous women who struggled to find equal footing in a world of men. Alanna who posed as a man to be the first female knight. Daine who used her power over animals to push an army to its knees. Kel who was kind and good and the first openly female page, following in Alanna’s footsteps. Aly, spymaster and revolutionary. Beka with her dogged determination.
They are complex women. Not defined by beauty, nor by their physical strength. What truly set them apart was their resolve and their desire to find their place in a world where they were constantly doubted. It is an utter joy to watch their stories unfold through their
respective series and to see such different examples of femininity.
Would it really be me writing if I didn’t gush a little at the romance in these books? It never takes any position as a central plot point, but it is always there and written exquisitely and subtly. Tamora Pierce has a knack for writing about matters of the heart very pragmatically without taking away the smidge of magic that comes with all romance.
Oh, how desperately I wanted my own copies of her books! Ones that belonged utterly to me, ones that I could proudly put on my bookshelf and reach for whenever I desired. I was tired of checking them out of the library constantly. Tired of the fines I was accumulating by returning them late. (I have yet to face any kind of credit card debt, but shudder at the thought of how much I owe my local library.)
Alas, my search was in vain. I left the shop (Notting Hill Book Exchange for those of you who are curious) dejected, but not entirely without a spring in my step for I had found a different book to keep me occupied. The years went on, and I finally gave in to the convenience of Amazon and accumulated the books I loved (I have yet to buy them all, some copies are proving to be quite elusive).
You might be wondering, why was she so desperate for books she has already read? Rereading books is an artform unto itself. Each time I read a book again it’s a completely different experience. I have different contexts in my life. I change and grow, and with that so does my perspective on things. There is always that fear that I won’t like a book that I read when I was younger because my attitudes are wholly different now. (Asterix the Gaul is a prime example of this, as those books are incredibly racist now that I look at them, but
that is a discussion for another day).
Tamora Pierce’s books are not one of them. When I reread them, I find a golden nugget of brilliance each time. A phrase I had forgotten.
I connection I had missed. The same feeling as being away from home for a long time, only to find a favourite stuffed toy you had long forgotten. These books are also a reminder that reading is not only an escape, but also an empowering experience. As I read the stories of these women, their bravery and wisdom and failures and struggles, they leant me their strength. I never consciously acknowledged this when I first fell head-long into their world, but now I see how much they taught me.
I plan to devour these books again soon, and I will be sure to bring you along on a more in- depth journey as I do. For now, I hope the idea of strong female characters, a world of magic and knights and mystique is enough to draw you in. I certainly cannot wait to share
these books with my own daughter one day.
Tortall reading order:
Song of the Lioness – following Alanna
- Alanna: The First Adventure
- In the Hand of the Goddess
- The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
- Lioness Rampant
The Immortals – following Daine
- Wild Magic
- Emperor Mage
- The Realms of the Gods
The Protector of the Small – following Kel
- First Test
- Lady Knight
Trickster – following Aly
- Trickster’s Choice
- Trickster’s Queen
Beka Cooper – following Beka