Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter 5 – The Second Year

In the fifth chapter of Alanna, the pages begin their second year, and Alanna struggles with her lack of talent in swordfighting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Alanna.

five: The Second Year

You know, I’ve complained before about how I am easily irritated by narratives that jump forward in time in just a few sentences. I know I did that a lot during the first few books of Harry Potter, but I think I just wanted to know every detail ever about what happened each year at Hogwarts. I was so fascinated by that world that I felt I was being cheated out of more details whenever Rowling advanced the time. Looking back, that’s kind of an absurd complaint to have, especially since things could have become incredibly banal quickly if Rowling had spent 100 pages narrating each class for a month straight. (Would I still have read and enjoyed that? You bet I would.) A writer has to make choices about how pacing works in a novel, and generally, Rowling was great at this. (Incidentally, the one book I’ve heard the most complaints about regarding pacing – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – is my favorite. OH, WELL.)

While I will certainly have a more informed opinion about the pacing in Alanna once I’ve finished it, I definitely like that I’m just around halfway through the book, and we’re already in Alanna’s second year. I know there are three more books left in this initial series (AND THERE ARE SO MANY MORE TORTALL BOOKS, AND YES, I WILL READ THEM ALL FOR MARK READS FUCK YES), so it excites me to think that Alanna might be an adult by the time we get to the last book. I WANT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS DURING HER TEST. But that also means that the inevitable is going to have to be dealt with: someone is going to find out that Alanna is actually a girl. There are a number of close calls in chapter five, starting off with Alanna’s need to wear a binder in order to disguise herself. Look, the queer context of this plot is not even a subtext anymore, and my little queer heart is exploding at the sheer possibilities this series can give me. Again, how the fuck did not a single one of my friends recommend this book to me???

“Maybe I was born that way, but I don’t have to put up with it!”

And in one sentence, Alanna completely deconstructs Lady Gaga from the past. I love this book. I love it so, so, so much.

Still, I must admit that this isn’t all fun and games for Alanna. I’m glad that Coram preaches self-acceptance to Alanna, but I feel like he’s still missing the obvious: she can’t out herself as a young woman because she’ll probably be kicked out of Corus. That’s why she gets so upset about her friends’ insistence that she go swimming with them. She can’t risk exposing her secret. However, Tamora Pierce imparts a vital message here through Raoul:

“I hadn’t meant to say anything, but since I have the chance – Alan, you seem to think we won’t like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you’re different?”

No, just stop this, Pierce, my queer heart is exploding with feelings again, and I can’t even deal with it anymore. THIS BOOK CAME OUT BEFORE I WAS BORN, AND NO ONE EVER TOLD ME TO READ IT, AND IT WOULD HAVE HELPED ME SO MUCH.

“I don’t mean to be difficult,” she muttered.

Gary laughed. “Of course you do. It’s one of your charms.”

Bless this book. BLESS IT.

This chapter also marks the arrival of Duke Roger of Conté, Jonathan’s cousin. His appearance is another element that worries Alanna, since he’s supposed to teach the Gifted ones sorcery. My brain went immediately to one place: he’ll know Alanna is a woman in five seconds. Easily. He’s Gifted! How could he not? This is the same thing Alanna is instantly concerned about as well. It’s why she is so cautious around him, something that Jonathan and Gary notice, too. Even Gary suspects that Alanna is hiding something. Oh, shit. So who’ll be the first to discover her secret? There’s a part of me that thinks Roger was easy on Alanna during her interview because he already figured it out. If not, though, I think Jonathan will be the first to confront her. Wait, I just had another thought. What if Roger was able to read Alanna, and what if he discovered what she really did to save Jonathan? THIS IS ALSO AN INTRIGUING IDEA.

Let’s talk about FRIENDSHIP. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so full of people becoming friends like Alanna. I read (and watch) so much stuff involving drama, conflict, and strife that it’s a welcome reprieve to come across a story where nearly everyone respects one another enough to consider themselves friends. In this case, I was actually nervous about Jonathan meeting George for the first time. While it made sense that Gary eventually became friends with the King of Thieves, I didn’t think George would take too kindly to Alanna bringing the actual Prince to his place.

And I was initially right. George was weirded out by this. But once Alanna is distracted by the new horse that George sold her, Jonathan has a private conversation with George about why he sold Alanna such a valuable horse for such a cheap price.  The answer? FRIENDSHIP. No, seriously, that is George’s reasoning. And then Jonathan gives George a sapphire ring, then George gives the Prince a horse, and then everyone is friends, and then I just want to hug this book and let it go because even though there is a great deal of conflict in these pages, people are friends. I LOVE FRIENDS, AND I LOVE STORIES ABOUT MAKING FRIENDS. I know I’m a broken record at this point, but I’m just so satisfied with this book.

And then, DISAPPOINTMENT. Well, not on my part, but Alanna faces another challenge that she does not succeed at, at first that is. Alanna and some of the younger pages all begin training in sword work with the Palace Gaurd, Aram Sklaw. Despite that Alanna fought well against Rolan in her first year, this doesn’t mean she’s good with a sword. Even after some training, she’s humiliated when she loses her duel with Sklaw. At first, I didn’t know why she felt particularly bad for Coram until I remembered that her performance reflected on his teaching. As she puts it:

Coram had encouraged her all this way, had made himself a wall between her and the people who might have discovered who she really was. She had failed Coram, and he had seen it.

Oh, Alanna. Poor girl! Yet even if she had hurt Coram’s pride, I adore him for being so honest and supportive of her, stressing that it was possible for her to learn to be a natural with a sword. In this moment, he chooses to inspire her instead of further demean her. That, to me, is the sign of a good teacher and a good friend.

F R I E N D S H I P

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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