Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter One – Twins

In the first chapter of Alanna, Alanna of Trebond schemes with her twin brother to switch places so that she can pursue her own destiny. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start the Song of the Lioness quartet.

I AM SO EXCITED.

Okay, since I started Mark Reads, the two most requested books/series that I’ve been badgered with were always Good Omens and Song of the Lioness. Actually, people would just shriek READ TAMORA PIERCE RIGHT NOW at me, so I’m finally doing it. (And right after I finished Good Omens, too! Awesome!)

Here’s what I know about this series.

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I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF IT. Yeah, so, let me first just say that I grew up in the science fiction and horror worlds. My experience with fantasy is extremely limited over the years. Honestly, it generally came down to one thing: I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t see myself in any of the stories. On top of that, most of the fantasy nerds in junior high and high school were some of the worst people I ever encountered, so it was hard for me to get into the things they loved. I spoke about that openly when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well. I was given the wrong idea about that story because of my experience with some of its fans. (Lord, I am sure we all have fandoms we’ve encountered who have caused us to dismiss a book or a show or a movie simply by virtue of them being terrible people. CAN WE DISCUSS THIS?)

I’m still really new to fantasy, so I wanted to take the time to read something that existed in this genre. And it’s my first quartet! That’s pretty cool. OH GOD, I LOVE NEW THINGS.

Let’s discuss a few things first. (If you also read this morning’s Feed opening review, you can skip this until the “one: Twins” part!)

1) If you have read these books and this is your first time on the site, please consult the Site Rules and Spoiler Policy. We use rot13 to cypher any and all spoilers in the comments so that myself and other folks can still participate without being spoiled. There’s also a fairly strict set of community guidelines in place about how to conduct yourself here. Please familiarize yourself with this before you ever post a comment, because you’ll likely only get a warning or two after this before your commenting privileges are revoked.

2) Running the Mark Does Stuff community continues to be rather expensive, as there are a LOT of you, and y’all tend to show up at one time. (Especially for Mark Watches.) I’m always trying to find ways to respectfully keep this place afloat, and I’d like to start using my Amazon Affiliate account to hopefully raise a few dollars a month to go towards hosting, spam removal, and my glorious server that I had to get last December when Buffy fans fried a server in less than sixty seconds. Occasionally, you’ll see me link to books, movies, television shows, etc., and I’ll probably explicitly tell you what the link is for. Basically, if you purchase stuff through Amazon, I can get a small percentage for directing you there.

For example! The Alanna: The First Adventure Kindle edition and the Alanna paperback is HELLA CHEAP, so if you want to follow along, you should pick it up! IT WILL BE LIKE A SUPER SASSY BOOK CLUB, AMIRITE.

3) This series will be alternated here on Mark Reads with Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. Like I do on Mark Watches with Buffy/Angel, that means we will take turns each day. Please check out the Master Schedule, which contains the official post order and all plans for future reviews for both sites!

Now that I have this out of the way, CAN I FINALLY START SONG OF THE LIONESS? OH MY GOD YES.

one: Twins

Look, okay, any story that utilizes twins as main characters is instantly appealing to me. As a twin, I don’t often see twins in books! (J.K. Rowling, I refuse to forgive you. I REFUSE.) But what I truly love about this first chapter is how quickly Tamora Pierce gets right to the main conflict of this story:

Alanna of Trebond is a tomboy, and she doesn’t want to do the things that are assigned to her gender.

WHERE THE FUCK WAS THIS BOOK WHEN I WAS A CHILD? Oh, I wasn’t even born when this came out. Whoops! And I know this isn’t subtle at all, but I don’t care. I love how direct and simple this introduction is. Thom and Alanna both don’t want to do what’s expected of them. They don’t want to do what their uninterested and distracted father thinks is best for the rest of their lives. And that’s actually one trope that I am familiar with in terms of fantasy stories. Most fantasy novels are set within a patriarchal type of society, and gender dictates the future roles that people will play when they get older. OH, HEY, DOES THAT STILL SOUND FAMILIAR. Here, though, we have a young girl who is so determined to do what she loves in life that she schemes to switch places with her brother. I adore that this mischievous act is inherently about how much she loves her twin, too. She knows that he’s better at magic, and she wants him to be happy pursuing his dream as well.

And so the two of them go to Maude, the village healer, and holy subtext. There’s so much here that not only foreshadows the future, but offers a commentary on what it is that Alanna is seeking out. Deep down, Maude knows that the twins are right. They are best suited for the skills they excel at.

Thom had to be ordered to hunt, and Alanna had to be tricked and begged into trying spells.

So while she is extremely cautious with the twins, I think she knows she can’t fight this. So she uses what magic she can to see if this is the path that they’re supposed to take. Is this so that she can feel comforted by her decision? Possibly. But then this happens:

Ignoring all the laws of magic Alanna had been taught, the picture grew and spread. It was a city made all of black, shiny stone. Alanna leaned forward, squinting to see it better. She had never seen anything like this city. The sun beat down on gleaming walls and towers. Alanna was afraid – more afraid than she had ever been…

HAHAHA, YES. I actually get to see foreshadowing as it happens. Oh god, I always miss, BUT NOT THIS TIME. Muahahahaha. Oh god, WHAT IS THAT CITY. It’s evil, isn’t it? I bet gremlins live there. Or… wait, what sort of mythological animals exist in this universe? Clearly, there are knights, and ladies, and magic, and sorcery, and… horses? And liquor. Oh, lots of liquor, of which Coram drinks tons of. Okay, that’s going to be fun to discover, too!

But the best part of this entire chapter is Maude’s emotional request that Alanna use her healing. Fantasy novels do tend to be pretty violent, with high death rates, even if those deaths aren’t graphic or gory. And Alanna is off to be a knight, and that means she’ll have to eventually kill someone. I love that Maude tries to get her to think about this and not how cool it will be to pursue knighthood:

“You see only the glory. But there’s lives taken and families without fathers and sorrow. Think before you fight. Think on who you’re fighting, if only because one day you must meet your match. And if you want to pay for those lives you do take, use your healing magic. Use it all you can, or you won’t cleanse your soul of death for centuries. It’s harder to heal than it is to kill. The Mother knows why, but you’ve a gift for both.”

It’s not just a commentary on this world, but it spells out the dual nature of Alanna to come. (That’s my guess, at least.) But now I’m wondering: who do these people fight? Why is there even a need for knights at all? I have so many questions.

After Alanna and Thom bid each other goodbye, the narrative focuses on Alanna’s journey to Corus alongside Coram. Coram is directly contrasted with Maude in a way. He’s an adult who is far more moody than Maude is. Understandably so, though! He thinks he’s taking Thom to Corus and that he’ll be embarrassed by Thom’s fighting. Like Maude, he also understands that Alanna is better suited for the position. Ultimately, I believe that’s why he doesn’t take Alanna back home after he discovers she and Thom switched places. When she saves him from death due to the wood snake in the road, it’s a chance for him to acknowledge that this really might be the best possible path to take. She’s a natural at this, better than most boys he’s probably come across in his training. He’ll benefit from this lie, too! Well, and he was drunk off his ass, so that certainly helped.

Corus itself is a pretty grand city, and I like that it represents Alanna’s journey into a new life. Everything is so fresh, colorful, and exciting to her in the marketplace. To her, it’s one thing to read about such places, and it’s another thing to actually see them. That’s one of my favorite things about traveling, too. There’s no experience comparable to being there and seeing the things you’ve only read about for years. And now Alanna is here, and she made it to Corus, and she will be damned if she doesn’t see this through.

Oh, I can already tell this is going to be so much fun.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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4 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter One – Twins

  1. reena says:

    You should read some of her newer stuff….song of the lioness is good but not nearly as detailed and thoroughly developed as some of her other quartets. Try protector of the small or trickster’s choice.

  2. Kathy says:

    The Alanna series is AMAZING. I dont suggest starting with anything else. Not only is Alanna an amazing strong women (it who I named my daughter after) but it also sets the pace for the next book in the Tortallian set. Thats another reason I love Tamoras books, they all tie in together, so I still get to learn about my favorite people while getting involved in another book!

  3. blue says:

    OMG OMG. Mark us reading Tamora Pierce. Awesomeness overload. Cannot cope.

    Are you going to be reading the rest of the Tortall books, or just Song of the Lioness? Alanna is great, and you absolutely have to start with her, but Tammy really developed as a writer as she went on, and a lot of the later series are just BETTER, so I hope you give them a go later.

  4. k says:

    I agree. Alanna is good, but her later series’ are much better and thorough. Keep in mind that YA books were not allowed to be very long in those days, until harry potter came along and broke all the rules and proved that kids will read long books. I wish the alanna series could be rewritten with the detail that tamora writes in today.

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