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Book Review: New to Me–Alanna: The First Adventure

Tamora Pierce is a favorite author for many teens, remaining popular with readers for decades.  But do fantasy novels have to worry about becoming dated like realistic fiction?  Or is fantasy unaffected by the passage of time?

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness Book I)
Tamora Pierce
Published 1983

Alanna of Trebond knows she’s not suited to life as a nun, just like her twin brother Thom isn’t suited for life as a soldier.  Their distant father, caught up with his research, barely notices them beyond forbidding them to use their magical gifts.  Taking advantage of their father’s distraction, Alanna persuades Thom to switch places.  Thom will go to study magic while Alanna, disguised as a boy, will go to the royal palace of Tortall and train as a soldier.  Now known as Alan, she will face several challenges: a bully, a magical sickness, and being smaller than the other boys.  But Alanna is stubborn and determined, and she’ll meet all these challenges head-on.  Along the way, she’ll make new friends and prepare for new adventures.

The first Alanna book is a straightforward story of hidden identity, magic, and knightly training.  There’s a feeling of HarryPotter in this setup, of an ordinary child discovering their hidden strengths and talents.  Yet Alanna: The First Adventure is a very different novel.  Especially for a fantasy novel, it is a thin book, weighing in at only 216 pages that covers Alanna’s first four years of training.  Just think how many pages it took for J.K. Rowling to cover Harry’s first four years at Hogwarts!

Yet this is not to say that Alanna: The First Adventure isn’t a good fantasy novel.  The number of novels set in the land of Tortall indicates that this world has captured readers.  So the relatively short length of the novel indicates more a careful restraint at work by Tamora Pierce.  Instead of letting her narrative be bogged down in lengthy descriptions or heavy-handed exposition, she keeps the story moving.  Yet there’s still plenty of magic spells and knightly duels, like other fantasy novels.  The world of Tortall is unusual, but not utterly foreign to readers.

Like so many series, the Song of the Lioness uses its first installment to create the world and its characters.  In Alanna: The First Adventure, this task is neatly achieved.  By the end of the novel, there’s a sense of who are the heroes and the villains, what are the themes of the series, and some questions that will hopefully be answered in future entries.  It’s accomplished economically in this novel, which would be an advantage for reluctant readers.  Anyone who’s not a big fan of fantasy would likely be easily drawn into Alanna: The First Adventure.

Teens used to lengthy fantasy series–Harry Potter, the Inheritance cycle, or even Twilight–might think that the Song of the Lioness isn’t complex enough.  For readers willing to give it a try, they will find Alanna: The First Adventure a fast-moving mix of swords and sorcery.  Interestingly enough, though, the novel doesn’t otherwise feel dated or tired.  Still a classic of YA literature, this first novel by Tamora Pierce is still enchanting readers over twenty-five years after its publication.

Melissa Rabey–currently reading Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen and Where the Truth Lies by Jessica Warman

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Melissa Rabey


  1. Anna D. Anna D.

    Hooray, Alanna! One of the staples of my preteen years. I’m still eagerly anticipating each of Tamora Pierce’s new books in the Tortall universe.

  2. ariel ariel

    so first off the origanl book was much larger, the publisher cut it down into for books, and took alot of things out.

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