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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce 
12th-Feb-2006 10:40 am
Golden
For those of you who might be wondering, I write reviews for multivolume anthologies as I finish each volume. It's a way for me to see the evolution of my opinion...and it also charts any misapprehensions I might have about the eventual outcome of the plot.

Pierce, Tamora. Song of the Lioness. SFBC, 2002.
-Alanna: The First Adventure- (1983)
Summary: Alanna wants to be a knight, but she's a girl. So she disguises herself as the boy Alan and trades places with her twin brother Thom, who wants to be a sorcerer instead of a knight. As a page, she is generally successful, befriending the King of Thieves and Prince Jonathan, even saving him from a mysterious illness. Naturally, she has a great destiny and is entrusted with a magical sword. When the sinister Duke Roger dares the prince to visit the Black City, Alanna goes with him, and together they defeat ten Immortals. Jonathan finds out that "he" is a woman but decides to take her on as his squire, anyway.
Comments: A generally inoffensive, easy-to-read (though infrequently peppered with grammatical errors) stock tale of a girl disguising herself as a boy to make a living in a male world. Nothing is especially unexpected; the characters eat some sort of unspecified food, their clothes are vague "tunics" and "vests," they live in a temperate climate, they're all white, rival groups are non-white, and they all speak standard American English. Suffice to say that Alanna's fantasy world isn't all that "fantastic." The whole protagonist destined for greatness cliche gets really old really quickly, but at least you get to see Alanna working her butt off for every success and every shred of respect from her page peers. And if powerful magic so conveniently obscures her gender, well, it's a necessary conceit, right? Of course, you just know that she's destined to marry Jonathan and become Queen, Alanna's supposed ambition is to become a knight errant roaming the countryside and having adventures aside. Such humility on the author's part, never mind the character's, is tiresome.
-In the Hand of the Goddess- (1984)
Summary: Alanna addresses three issues that have been plaguing her life. First of all, she starts sleeping with Jonathan and dressing (occasionally) like a woman. She passes her Ordeal of the Knighthood. And, finally, she foils the dastardly Duke Roger's machinations for the throne, proving at last that is responsible for the mysterious illnesses striking the royal family.
Comments: Yet another safely unoffensive story. Just like every shoujo manga I've ever read, the boys are all falling over in worship of the heroine...and, as usual, she ends up with the boring but oh-so-dishy prince. Why is it that the man the heroine is NOT destined for is always so much more interesting and biddable? I feel sorry for George. I'm displeased that there continue to be so few other positive female role-models, especially Alanna's age; it sends the wrong message about the Old Boy's Club and women who seek only undermine each other. Also, it's just so convenient and unrealistic that, when Alanna is revealed as a woman before the court, that everyone smiles and accepts her...and if there is any problem, Pierce blithely doesn't bother to cover it. As you can see, I mistrust any book, ESPECIALLY when it is a young adult book, that settles for easy answers. So, color me unimpressed.
-The Woman Who Rides Like a Man- (1986)
Summary: Alanna's first year as a knight. She befriends the Bazhir and becomes their shaman after the old one tries to kill her and dies in the attempt. She trains three new shamans for the trip; the two girls make it. Meanwhile, Jonathan becomes the new Voice of the Tribe, thereby uniting Tortall and the Bazhir. However, Alanna won't marry him and instead goes to George. Unresolved mysteries include the noble-born thief Claw who is challenging George's power and the machinations of Alanna's brother Thom, who might be trying to raise the dead.
Comments: Quite frankly, this novel felt like a placeholder. None of the intriguing plot teasers at the end of the third book are in any way resolved. There was way, way, way too much recap in the beginning of Alanna's previous exploits, and it made the first fourth quite tedious. Alanna's accomplishments this time around include acceptance of her magical ability and the making of female friends. The Bazhir, which are basically Bedouin clones, make for a only so-so example to locate a radical-cultural feminist screed, however, as Alanna decides it's time to learn "women's work." I'm not sure where the sudden "brat-prince" Jonathan comes from, and it seems like a thin excuse in order to extend Alanna's freedom and story by making him an asshole who's obviously not going to let her live as she pleases--at least for now.
-Lioness Rampant- (1988)
Summary: Alanna, accompanied by the Shang Dragon Liam, finds both the Dominion Jewel and a prospective wife for the future King Jonathan. As the King's Champion, she is able to foil one last plot by the revived King Roger and assure Jonathan's throne. In the process, however, she loses her twin brother Thom and her cat Faithful...but she does gain a husband in George, who has given up his career as a thief and been made a baron.
Comments: At long last, Pierce has finally gotten her literary act together and given us a story that is both action-packed and well-written--she's experimenting a touch more with different cultures and dialects, too. Or, perhaps I've just gotten used to the mediocrity. I'm not sure, but I'd like to believe the former. I'm so glad that Alanna does not end up with Jonathan; becoming the Queen at the end is just too cliched. (Her rationale for not marrying Jonathan, that they would never be equals, is one of the most interesting and provocative strokes in the novel.) And her main lover of in this volume, Liam, was just irritating. The female characters Thayet and Buri were much more appealing than the males this time around. I'm not particularly sorry to see him go. Ditto with Faithless. Not a fan of cats who are supposed to be smart-talking and sarcastically funny but just end up being yet another cliche. Though I'm not pleased that the culmination of Alanna's life is to get married and agree to have children after a few big adventures, at least you get the feeling that the author INTENDS her marriage to be an emancipated one. Points for trying...though I don't suppose the message that you can a bit of everything at once is a particularly realistic message to send to young readers. Not all of us have magical gifts, you know. Oh, and Pierce uses the word "tartly" waaaaay too much.
Notes: hardcover, exclusive 4-in-1 BCE
Rating: 5, 5, 4.5, 6/10 - Mainstream, unoffensive young-adult fiction for girls. Superficially empowering in that you see the heroine get everything she strives for. Too bad that, in the real world, women don't usually get everything that they deserve.
Comments 
12th-Feb-2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
If you are interested in better stories that have similar themes check out Anthony Hopes "The Prisoner of Zenda" and Cynthia Voigt's "Wing of a Falcon." Both main characters are male and Voigt's book is generally hard to find, but I couldn't but either of them down.
12th-Feb-2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
I'm not a fan of children's literature at all (it tends to be too insipid, and I get incredibly critical about the sorts of messages that get sent); it just so happens that Pierce's books are easy to get and cheap through the book clubs.
13th-Feb-2006 12:24 am (UTC)
Voigt is for young adults, but Hope is adult. I agree though, young adult literature is pretty blah. Ever read anything by V.C. Andrews? *stabeth* now that is insipid soap opera trash... makes you go cross-eyed. And don't get me started on the fact that stories have been released with her name on them for two or so decades after her death...
13th-Feb-2006 01:53 am (UTC)
*laughs* Another thing I'm not a fan of is women's pulp fiction--especially of the romance or mystery/thriller sort. You should see me vomit whenever I'm poking through cast off books at garage sales. They're almost always that sort of tripe.
12th-Feb-2006 11:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, I remember this series! I read it when I was much, much younger. Looking back, I can see the problems in the author's handling (i.e. by not handling them) of the issues, but I was still looking at the sword-fighting aspect and wondering why no one talked about the gender confusion. I mean, hello?! Allana living and dressing as a boy, the other students reacting to her as a boy and then Jonathan reacting to her as a girl. Then there was the whole disney-fied underworld, which I found more interesting even as white-washed as it was, and George (who kicked ass before turning respectable. But, oh, I harbored hopes for a 'robber baron' sort of thing.)

My biggest problem was her insistence, with little explanation beyond 'it's a fantastical quasi-medieval society,' for fifteen year old (and younger) girls to marry much older men--in later novels, men who are both older, but in positions of great power and influence over them. No one really remarks on it in the stories, and that bothered me.
13th-Feb-2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
*nods* Everything was a bit "too" clean to be wholly believable.

My biggest problem was her insistence, with little explanation beyond 'it's a fantastical quasi-medieval society,' for fifteen year old (and younger) girls to marry much older men--in later novels, men who are both older, but in positions of great power and influence over them. No one really remarks on it in the stories, and that bothered me.

Well, in the fourth novel, Alanna remarks that she won't marry Jonathan because they'd never be equal--but yeah, none of the "couples" seem to be the same age. Maybe it's a big-brother complex, or something. ^^;
13th-Feb-2006 02:44 am (UTC)
The trick with children's literature, for me anyway, is to find the ones that don't take themselves too seriously.

13th-Feb-2006 02:38 pm (UTC)
Humor is good sometimes, but in general I like books that take themselves seriously. I think my all-time favorite young adult book was The Giver.
13th-Feb-2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't. There's nothing, to me, as ridiculous as stuff (books, art, people) that take them/itself too seriously. It doesn't necessarily have to do with humor, but just with lack of pomposity, ya know? Artists that have that kind of authenticity that comes from not trying to prove anything about themselves are the best in my opinion, which is why sometimes I can't stand certain latin authors who love to show just how scholarly they are. Don't get me wrong, I love knowledge, but not when it's used as a sword or a vanity mirror. They're kind-a like nouveau riche, but with "erudition"?

Thank you for the rec', I'll be sure to look it up.
13th-Feb-2006 11:31 pm (UTC)
I don't mind literary ambition or scholarly pretension--as long as the author can carry it off. Some of the best writers are the ones who have somehow worked to reimagine their craft (Toni Morrison comes to mind). On the other hand, I've seen all to often how mediocre writers becomes the ones with the most sales and name power. A lot of people can't handle true quality, so they support derivative garbage.
14th-Feb-2006 12:02 am (UTC)
Ambition is wonderful. Affected scholarly pretension? Not so much. I don't like to look at people's insecurities, or pimples, or slips, or panties or boxers for too long, specially if I don't know them well.

I would imagine that part of reimagining craft is goofing around. There's something really humble about true artistic geniuses, the way they sacrifice themselves for their art when art is nothing but play.

I don't know if it's that people can't handle true quality, or if it's that those who are in control of promotion and dispersion of the work constantly underestimate the average person.

If you're constantly told that "true quality" is out of your level, you begin to buy into the bullshit and accept what you’re supposed to like.

I guess part of it is that those who say they appreciate quality give themselves these wonderful attributes, as if somehow admiring something made one somehow worthy of admiration. I suppose enjoying beauty, artistry and quality is great (good for me!) but nothing that really marks anyone as superior.

Or at least I don't feel superior when I like something, just like I don't feel superior when I follow the rules, or I enjoy a particularly delicious food. I just think it's part of the normal order of things. Though maybe I should start patting myself in the back more often for it. Or maybe slap my own butt, kiss it, who knows.

14th-Feb-2006 12:11 am (UTC)
I would imagine that part of reimagining craft is goofing around.

It depends on the person. Toni Morrison is generally modest about her accomplishments; Jonathan Franzen is not (to say the least). But both have produced truly excellent work.

If you're constantly told that "true quality" is out of your level, you begin to buy into the bullshit and accept what you’re supposed to like.

I disagree. The problem to my mind is that too many people mistake derivative garbage for quality. Look at the popularity of The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter, for example. Both crap in all respects, the first advancing fake history, the second ripped from a bunch of other better writers. Yet millions of people who obviously do not have the experience to know better will burn you at the stake for pointing this out.

I guess part of it is that those who say they appreciate quality give themselves these wonderful attributes, as if somehow admiring something made one somehow worthy of admiration.

That again depends on the person. If they're right (if their arguments are supportable), then their opinions are worthy of admiration. Americans like to say that it's a free country so everyone's entitled to their opinion, but certain things are not a matter of opinion. Sometimes you're just wrong.
14th-Feb-2006 12:33 am (UTC) - I totally totally rock because I like Godiva.
It depends on the person. Toni Morrison is generally modest about her accomplishments; Jonathan Franzen is not (to say the least). But both have produced truly excellent work.

I suppose you're right, I'll just admire the one and poke good-humored fun at the other.

Yet millions of people who obviously do not have the experience to know better will burn you at the stake for pointing this out.

Exactly, if only they could experience more.

Americans like to say that it's a free country so everyone's entitled to their opinion, but certain things are not a matter of opinion. Sometimes you're just wrong.

Oh, I agree. For some reason people mistake Democracy for the acceptance of all ideas as equally valid, which is dog tripe. However, being right doesn't always makes you worthy of admiration, sometimes it makes you the object of ridicule if you're both right and petty.

Ever seen the kid in the back who correctly disagrees with another, and then drives himself into an apoplectic fury, at which time he begins to spit and you're afraid the pressure in his skull will subsequently lead to flatulence?

I think there has to be a balance. I'm sure I haven't achieved that balance, but I wish people would try to like what they like in order to enjoy life more, and not to achieve some level of status.

At the same time, it's not right for me to judge how people get their ego boosts. Everyone has their weaknesses.





15th-Feb-2006 12:48 am (UTC) - Re: I totally totally rock because I like Godiva.
*grins* That Godiva is a good example. I'm personally not a fan of chocolate, so I wouldn't know the good from the bad if it were force-fed down my throat. But let's just say Godiva really IS good chocolate for the sake of argument. The person who eats it just because it's a prestige item, because others in positions of power/knowledge do--well, then, that can be irritating, even if they are making the "right" choice, because you know they're fickle. On the other hand, if a person eating it is a chocolate expert who appreciates and can identify quality--well, then, that's a skill, and I at least think people should be proud of their skills. Also, to me, it's a totally different thing to be right about something by chance and to be right about something due to systematic knowledge. People with the latter get their props regardless, and if they're modest about it, well, that's just a bonus. ^_^
15th-Feb-2006 01:27 am (UTC) - Beeeeehhhh
I think we agree up to a point.

You believe that people who are able to identify quality have a skill, and I think it's just a natural part of being a human being to enjoy quality. It should only come up if you're thinking JK is better than Tony, but not if you think Tony is better than JK.

I don't know why, but whenever I see someone commending themselves for liking something they understandably enjoy, something excellent, I imagine them bragging about not raping sheep.
Disturbing, huh?


15th-Feb-2006 01:34 am (UTC) - Re: Beeeeehhhh
I think it's just a natural part of being a human being to enjoy quality.

Then why do I have people who think that Rowling is a great writer and call me an ignorant bitch for saying otherwise? By your argument, they should be able to recognize quality innately...and I don't buy that. Too many people, as I said earlier, revere garbage for me to believe that recognition of quality isn't a learned skill.
15th-Feb-2006 01:51 am (UTC) - "You twat, how dare you say Hershey is better than Godiva!"
Those? You mean the Harry Potter fandom? The scary people?

I hope they're not representative of the whole of humanity. If they are, we could move to Alaska and become hermits. I'll pay for the cab fare.

I think it's because people get confused between what they enjoy and what's actually excellent. They believe that what they like somehow represents them, and so they have to defend their tastes to the death, which is where Godiva comes in.

I'm sure I like things which are considered garbage, but I know better than to unconditionally love them or give them attributes they don't rightly have. Harry Potter could be a righteous guilty pleasure, but calling anyone a bitch for vilifying them is crrrrrraaazy.



15th-Feb-2006 02:00 am (UTC) - Re: "You twat, how dare you say Hershey is better than Godiva!"
*laughs* You missed the online war a bunch of Harry Potter fans tried to start with me awhile ago after I quoted (and agreed with) children's lit expert Jack Zipes for saying that Rowling's books are, well, crap.

I agree--there's a huge difference between liking what you like (no explanations) and recognizing quality when you see it. I drive me batty when people think that everything they like must obviously be great. I mean, you might like to smoke, but you're not going to convince anyone that it's good for you, so why should books be any different? *sighs*
15th-Feb-2006 02:21 am (UTC) - Guilty pleasure numero 1
I mean, you might like to smoke, but you're not going to convince anyone that it's good for you, so why should books be any different? *sighs*


AMEN, SISTA!
13th-Feb-2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
I liked it as a middle schooler. ^_^

By the by, do you happen to have the latest bookcloseouts coupon handy? I can't find my bookmark, and I want to place a couple of orders...
13th-Feb-2006 02:06 pm (UTC)
I liked it as a middle schooler. ^_^

I might have liked it in elementary school. ^^;; Even by middle school, I was too picky... ^^;;;

By the by, do you happen to have the latest bookcloseouts coupon handy?

Sure. It's "castle" (password: bookcloseouts).
28th-Feb-2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
Reviews archived.
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