Tamora Pierce’s novels have been a cornerstone of my book collection since I was fifteen. I was in a bit of a reading slump at the time, and her YA fantasy novels offered me culturally diverse worlds to discover; nuanced villains to denounce; and, best of all, three-dimensional, kick-ass heroines to emulate. Tamora Pierce is one of the first authors I discovered who allowed her female characters to be both warriors and women. Their ability to fight didn’t negate their ability to fall in love with princes, or wear dresses; conversely, having pierced ears or love interests didn’t detract from their fighting abilities.
By this point Tamora Pierce has created two universes and published five quartets, one trilogy, one duology*, two stand-alones and one short story collection. If you’re considering reading her books, figuring out where to start might seem a bit daunting. I thought it’d be helpful to outline some of her different series and give some insight about who might enjoy which ones. Pierce’s novels all fall into two major universes: Tortall and Emelan. I’ll only cover the Tortall series in this post, as those books tend to be more popular.
Start with this series if you hate spoilers. It’s the first series chronologically, and almost all the other Tortall novels contain major spoilers for it. The books follow Alanna, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue knighthood. Alanna is for those who favor feisty, outspoken protagonists and epic heroes. The downside of the series is that it was originally written as a single adult novel, but published as four separate YA books. As a result, the pacing throughout the series is a bit erratic and the first book resolves very abruptly. Although the series generally embraces atypical gender roles, there are a few lines that seem dismissive of non-cisgendered identities. It really is only one or two lines, though, and the series was published in the 1980s.
The Immortals Quartet
(Wild Magic; Wolf-Speaker; Emperor Mage; The Realms of the Gods)
Start with this series if you love animals. While the other novels contain some great animal characters, this series overflows with a wide variety of different animals – both real and mythical. The series focuses on the struggle of its protagonist, Daine, to develop and control her magical connection with animals. While Alanna’s story revolves around her quest for self-acceptance, Daine’s centers upon her search for a sense of belonging and home. Daine is a heroine for those who prefer somewhat shyer, but nonetheless opinionated protagonists. Her connection with animals helps give her a unique perspective on the world.
Start with this series if you have a taste for protagonists with strong ideals, sometimes to the point of impracticality. Set several years after the Song of the Lioness quartet, the king has changed the law so female nobles can become knights. Keladry of Mindelan, or Kel, is the first girl to openly go for her knighthood. Despite the change in law, plenty of people still believe girls don’t belong in combat, and do their best to discourage her. While Alanna is very much the typical lone hero, Kel is a natural leader and more of a team-player. Kel is also Alanna’s opposite in temperament; Alanna is very vocal whereas Kel tends to keep her feelings to herself. This series happens to be my personal favorite. Squire also marked the beginning of Tamora Pierce’s reign at the top of my reading list.
(Trickster’s Choice; Trickster’s Queen)
Start with this series if you’ve always wanted to be a spy. These two books follow Aly, Alanna’s sixteen-year-old daughter, as she tries to escape the shadow of her ambitious mother and protective father. Aly gets taken captive by pirates and sold into slavery in the Copper Isles, far from her home in Tortall. Trained in spycraft from a young age, Aly finds herself drawn into a wager with a god, and caught in a foreign country with both an unstable government and strained race relations. While many of Tamora Pierce’s heroines tend to rely on physical training, Aly’s survival depends upon her out-thinking her opponents.
Start with this series if you like crime novels. This series is set two-hundred years before the Song of the Lioness quartet, so it is free of spoilers for the other novels. Beka, the protagonist, works for the city police force, which is colloquially known as the city’s “Dogs.” The first book starts when Beka is a trainee, or “Puppy,” and the series follows her as she doggedly pursues criminals, be they friends or enemies. This series is very different from many of Pierce’s other Tortall novels. For one, unlike Alanna, Kel, and Aly, Beka is a commoner. Secondly, Pierce wrote this trilogy entirely in the form of Beka’s diary entries. All of the other series are narrated in third-person. The books in this series also work better as stand-alones, as each book opens and resolves a separate mystery; there’s no plotline uniting all three books.
That covers Pierce’s Tortall novels. Which series sounds interesting to you? Which authors do you look to for great female characters? Let me know in the comments.
*As far as I can tell, duology, a neologism, is the best word for a two-book series. I sometimes use “duet” or “set” though.