Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter 4 – Death in the Palace

In the fourth chapter of Alanna, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FUCKING INCREDIBLE. HOW IS ALL OF THIS HAPPENING SO SOON? Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Alanna.

four: Death in the Palace

Yeah, there is absolutely no way I am going to dislike this book. If you remember, when I first came to Harry Potter, I did my best to be as critical as possible about The Sorcerer’s Stone. I didn’t want to like the book solely because it wasn’t the Twilight series. I wanted my enjoyment to be real. It wasn’t until I got to the fourth chapter and met Hagrid that I kind of fell head over heels for Harry Potter. IT WAS ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE.

And now, I’ve made it to the fourth chapter of Alanna, and I am so blown away that I’m wondering how no one ever recommended this series to me when I was growing up. Seriously! It wasn’t until I started this site in November of 2010 that I even heard about Tamora Pierce. Hell, I don’t even known any childhood or high school friends who ever spoke of this series. But the storytelling in this book is just mindblowing. In just a single chapter, Tamora Pierce has shown me just how expansive and terrifying the Tortall world is. Now I know that Alanna is destined for something greater. Do I understand everything that happens here? Absolutely not, and that’s half the appeal of “Death in the Palace.” I know there’s a lot of foreshadowing here, but I’ll be damned if I actually get what’s being hinted at.

I also love when a story, especially one aimed at a younger audience, contains an empowering message for the reader. In particular, this chapter not only addresses bravery, courage, and moral complexity, but it opens with a great lesson about the ramifications of Alanna’s fight with Ralon from chapter three. Alanna is punished by Duke Gareth for her actions, but she recognizes that everyone in this society is governed by rules. She broke those rules, and thus she must face the consequences. The Duke has his own code to live by, and that’s why he punishes Alanna. She can tell, though, that the Duke is satisfied with her behavior. She stood up to a bully, and she acted to protect her own sense of honor. That’s how a knight should act. It’s such a mature moment for Alanna because she understands the duty she must live by, and she doesn’t take her punishment personally.

Plus, she made friends. Seriously, I love stories about friendship so much, and her relationship with Jonathan grows stronger as the two begin to study with one another. But she is soon given another challenge, and she’ll grow even closer to Jonathan in the process. I was shocked, then, at how quickly Pierce addressed death in this book. That challenged that Alanna faces concerns her Gift and whether or not she should use it. The Sweating Fever hits the city hard, and so many people become sick that Alanna struggles to keep up with all of her new chores.

And then people start to die. Not one or two, but nine people in the first week. It’s when Alanna starts to wonder if she can help out the healers, since she possesses the Gift, but she’s unsure if she should do it. Maude told her that it was necessary for her to heal to atone for the deaths she would create as a knight, but she’s untrained. Plus, the nature of the Sweating Fever might be sorcery, so there’s the risk of Alanna being entirely drained.

That’s when her friend Francis gets deathly ill, and before Alanna can decide whether she should help or not, he dies. She did nothing to help him, and now she can’t do anything at all. The guilt she feels overwhelms her! Oh, Alanna, I just wanted to wrap her up in a hug. It’s so hard to deal with the helpless nature of death, and now Alanna is left to wonder if, for once, she could have actually helped keep Francis alive. She seeks out Sir Myles, who offers her some ambiguous advice, which isn’t what she wanted to hear.

“You couldn’t give a person a yes or no, could you?”

Myles shook his head. “Not in this case. Moral issues rarely have yes or no answers.”


Alanna’s guilt is tested again when the Prince himself falls sick. here, Pierce drives home the importance of courage in the face of fear. There are so many things here that Alanna should be afraid of, so much so that I would have entirely understood if she was reluctant to participate. But even when faced with having to use Coram to order a bunch of her superiors around, she does it anyway. She risks being insolent because she believes it is the right and necessary thing to do. She cares so deeply about her friend that it’s worth it to risk getting in trouble again.

It’s through this that she begins to slowly earn the respect of everyone around her. Coram and Sir Myles are openly impressed with Alanna’s selfless behavior. She decides that it’s more important to her to take control and try to do what she can to save Jonathan’s life. The prince’s death would only be a failure if she didn’t try to save him. Even Duke Baird, who is initially skeptical of Alanna, begins to trust her. And so Alanna leads an entire staff of people in trying to save Jonathan. She’s definitely more powerful than she thought she was, which she demonstrates to the Duke by strengthening him.

Alanna does decide to wait until the last possible moment to use her Gift. Just from a writing perspective, this is an awesome choice because it makes this all so much suspenseful. Jonathan is on the brink of death before she eventually concedes that it’s time for her to use magic. Before that, though, the King and Queen actually visit her. It’s the first time I meet them, too, and aside from this being a huge moment in terms of Alanna’s place in this castle, there’s a heartbreaking revelation about Alanna’s past. She tells the King that her father purposely refused to let her or Thom use their Gift because Alanna’s mother died while giving birth, despite having the Gift. Oh, christ, NOW THIS WHOLE CHAPTER HAS A NEW EMOTIONAL CONTEXT TO IT. Alanna’s mother passed the Gift to her, and now she’s using it as a way to subtly honor her. NOOOOOOOOO TOO MANY FEELINGS. And then the King agrees that it’s time for Knights to develop their magic if they have it, and THIS IS ALL SO TERRIBLY EXCITING.

But for real, y’all, the climactic resolution of this chapter’s plot is just… I was not expecting this! I knew Alanna could use magic, but she calls on the Dark Goddess to save Jonathan, and EVERYTHING IS SUPREMELY FUCKED UP. She sees that “city carved in black” again, and what the fuck is that? But I was equally as shocked by how the magic Alanna called upon affected her physical body. She becomes an amethyst, burning flame, and some woman speaks through her. The fire burns her from the inside, and still, she resists the temptation to stop so that she can master the power within her:

She fought back, shoving the pain away until she had it under control. Now she ruled the power she had pulled from the flames. She rode the tiger. She was a warrior!

No, this book is the best. How have I never read this? And who the hell is the woman who speaks to Alanna??? Is that the Great Mother? Even more bewildering, Sir Myles can hear it, too. NOOO WHAT IS GOING ON?!?!? Oh shit, ALANNA IS TALKING DIRECTLY WITH DEATH and she just told Death that he can’t have Jonathan, and I am both full of terror and love at the exact same time. Then Jonathan speaks in the voice of “the man he would be one day, deep and even, calm and commanding.” NO, WHAT IS THIS? By gods, are Jonathan or Myles going to figure out that Alanna is really a young woman?

I am just in love with this book, everyone. This is so good.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter 4 – Death in the Palace

  1. Melisabeth says:

    I am so obsessed with Tamora Pierce it’s not even funny. She and Patricia C Wrede take up an entire bookshelf in my home. I own three copies of Alanna.
    That being said, I first read Alanna when I was 12 and have re-read the entire series several times a year for about a decade and a half. Because of this, I honestly wasn’t sure if I loved it so much because of what it is, or because of my emotional connection to it.
    I was SO WORRIED that because you didn’t start reading this as a preteen girl in the mid nineties that you wouldn’t love Alanna like I do. But you like it! You really like it!
    This makes me happy, and also validates me and my taste. Hooray!

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