Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter Six – Womanhood

In the sixth chapter of Alanna, NO, SERIOUSLY, WHY DIDN’T ANYONE EVER TELL ME TO READ THIS BOOK BEFORE? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to keep reading Alanna.

six: Womanhood

THIS IS SO FANTASTIC, AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH, AND THIS CHAPTER IS SUPER LONG, AND I HAVE QUITE A FEW THOUGHTS THAT I NEED TO SHARE WITH YOU.

~ thoughts ~

  • So how is it that I’d never heard of Tamora Pierce until last year? I know that’s a strange question to ask, but I seriously don’t know how not a single person ever recommended her books to me. To be fair, it’s possible they did and I forgot it, but this is everything I want in fiction and fantasy in ONE BOOK. And this is only the first of like eighteen Tortall books I’m reading. H E L P
  • Oh, right, I suppose I should state that somewhere that’s not a comment? I’ll read all the Tortall books for Mark Reads. HELL YEAH.
  • Okay, let’s talk about Alanna before I get too sidetracked. THIS CHAPTER. THIS CHAPTER. Oh my god, a fantasy book that deals with someone getting their period for the first time? I swear to you, I’ve never read anything like this in my life. AND THIS BOOK IS OLDER THAN I AM. Bless.
  • And look, I have no desire to take away the importance of this moment from anyone, and I also recognize that you can get into some really weird situations by looking at things made in the past through a modern lens. So let me state that and note that this is a precarious bit of commentary that I more or less would rather discuss than just say THIS IS LAW, but: the only thing that bothered me about the opening scene was this claim by Mistress Cooper: “Your place in life you can always change, whether you have the Gift or not. But you cannot change what the gods have made you. The sooner you accept that, the happier you will be.”
  • Well, okay, so I imagine if you were trans* or genderqueer, that sentence is like being punched in the face? And I can only imagine that, since I’m cis, but it stuck out to me as a really unfortunate implication. But then I’m like DUDES, THIS WAS WRITTEN SO LONG AGO, and then I’m like SHOULD I EVEN SAY ANYTHING AT ALL and then I’m like BUT I DON’T WANT TO ERASE HOW IMPORTANT AND HUGE THIS MOMENT IS FOR OTHER PEOPLE, so: can we discuss this? I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS.
  • Actually, that reminds me of the time I pointed out Tolkien’s casual racism, made absolutely NO BIG DEAL AT ALL about it, moved on, and half the comments were people shrieking at me. oh god one of the worst days ever.
  • Let’s not do that again, okay?
  • ANYWAY: ALANNA TOLD MULTIPLE PEOPLE THAT SHE IS A YOUNG GIRL. I DID NOT THINK THIS WOULD HAPPEN SO SOON. Oh my god, I love this book so much. And bless you, George, for saying that you support and respect Alanna regardless of her gender. You care about what she does and what sort of person she is. Seriously, where was this book when I was growing up?
  • Why did Alanna’s vehement denial of wanting children make me smile? Oh god, these direct upheaval of fantasy tropes are just destroying me.
  • “I’ll give you a charm against your getting pregnant, then. If you change your mind, you can throw it away.” “Pigs might fly,” the girl muttered. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, ALANNA OF TREBOND.
  • Which is not to suggest there’s anything wrong with motherhood! There’s not! I just like that this is a fantasy novel where sex education and women’s health knowledge is passed along very matter-of-factly, and Alanna is not criticized for not wanting children. THIS IS REALLY LOVELY.
  • You know, Alanna’s plan for what will happen when she reveals that she’s a woman to everyone is really impractical, but I don’t care. It’s just so hopeful and gorgeous. She’ll get her training, prove that she’s a knight, and then go off and adventure away. Bless her.
  • “I never thought for a second that I couldn’t.” Okay, look, I have been constantly talking about how much I love that this book is about friendship, and I feel like I need to elaborate on this. Friends have always been my family aside from my twin brother. One of the reasons I became so attached to Buffy is because that show tells you rather explicitly that family is what you make of it, that it doesn’t need to be dictated by blood or birth, and that you should be free to choose who you keep in your life. Here, in Alanna, I’m witnessing what I wish I had when I was growing up: a large group of dedicated, dependable friends who love and care for me unconditionally, who have my back, who like to have fun together, and who respect one another. Someone on Tumblr recently asked me if things ever do get better in life, and while I’m not sure that’s an easy thing to quantify, I learned that keeping good, close, and reliable friends at hand can at least make things seem better, that no matter what shit life deals out to you, good friends can make most things tolerable.
  • F R I E N D S H I P.
  • WAIT WHY DOES MISTRESS COOPER SAY THAT ALANNA HAS “BEEN GIVEN A HARD PATH TO WALK” why would you just drop that casual bit of dreadful foreshadowing to her NOOOOOOO.
  • I really respect that Alanna isn’t an asshole about her punishments. She accepts them because she knows she broke the rules.
  • Okay, I think Sir Myles knows Alanna is a girl. Maybe he hasn’t 100% figured it out, but there’s got to be more to his interest other than his fascination with her magical abilities.
  • On the flip side of that, I’m glad that Alanna has a mentor of sorts in Sir Myles, that she can be friends with someone who is older than her, and I predict that Sir Myles will play a huge part in her development in later books.
  • Man, I even like Duke Gareth now, too. He’s becoming much more open with Alanna in their conversations. I know it’s a thing of mine that I love morally ambiguous characters, but it’s so pleasant to read this book and just enjoy how wonderful so many of these characters are.
  • Like, I don’t even know how to deal with everything that happens in Barony Olau. In just one chapter, Tamora Pierce blows this whole fictional universe wide open, foreshadows so many things that I can’t keep track of them, confuses me by the sheer power of WTF-ery that I experience here, and then scares the crap out of me because HER MAIN CHARACTER ALMOST DIED IN THE SIXTH CHAPTER. How am I going to survive this quartet if all this is happening in the first book?
  • Oh, right, Sir Myles, who is pretty much unphased by the gods or religion (at least in this context, as he’s certainly not an atheist by our standards), has a dream where he takes Alanna to Barony Olau, and once he suggested that he actually do so, the dreams stopped.
  • WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WHAT ARE THE GODS DOING
  • There’s a very specific and common trope here in chapter six. Pierce has been utilizing it for a while, but it really comes to fruition in “Womanhood.” Alanna is special, destined for some sort of greatness by powers she can’t control or understand, and this will narrate her journey. It’s certainly not the first time most of us have seen this archetype. Hell, how many series have I written about for my sites that use this? Buffy, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Battlestar Galactica… you get the point. As I’ve said before, use of a trope doesn’t ever mean something is good or bad automatically. I particularly like stories that use this one. But in Alanna, I’m drawn to this story because the context in which Alanna is pursuing this destiny is so unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s both a straight-up fantasy plot, and like nothing else. Given that she’s masking her gender, given that she’s using magic often, given that she’s battling gender norms and expectations, given that she is a goddamn teenager and has already accepted death as her eventual end, I can’t help but smile and cheer Alanna on. I am emotionally invested in seeing this pan out. Even if Pierce ultimately follows the trope to a T, it won’t matter to me because I like the way in which she utilizes this story.
  • So of course Alanna would disobey Myles and run straight into the passage. I mean, that’s such a great distillation of her character. She will go off to have an adventure, no matter how dangerous, because it’s exciting.
  • What the fuck is in that goddamn sword??? I mean, Duke Roger blabs about “old magic” later on in the chapter, but why did she react the way she did? WHAT IS GOING ON?
  • “As her knees buckled, Alanna took the knowledge of her own death and made it part of her.” No, stop it, I can’t deal with this tidal wave of emotions hitting me all at once.
  • “I can take a hint, Alan.” I don’t think prophetic dreams, a magically opened passage, a massive lightning storm, and a magic crystal-laden sword count as a hint, Myles. It’s about as subtle as a brick to the face. I appreciate your humor, though.
  • I, too, expected something dramatic when Alanna unsheathed the sword. Well played, Tamora Pierce.
  • Okay, George poking fun at Alanna accepting something cracked me up. I like him a great deal.
  • OKAY, WHAT THE HELL WAS UP WITH DUKE ROGER’S REACTION TO THE SWORD? That’s what I wondered at first, and I absolutely did not expect to see this addressed until the end. I don’t trust him, and then that letter happens and I am given EVERY REASON EVER not to trust him.
  • For real, we need to talk about Thom’s letter. Initially, when Alanna felt that burning hatred for the Duke of Conté, I thought that perhaps Pierce was fooling us. Maybe the Duke was really a good guy, but something else was at work that was controlling Alanna’s emotions. But then, Thom’s letter arrives, and I just had to put my face down on my desk because holy shit, everything got so real so quickly. Who the fuck is this sorcerer, and what the hell is he doing? Shit, now I can see how possible it is that he was the one who sent the Sweating Fever. He has every motivation to go after Prince Jonathan and to bear a grudge against Alanna, since she was the one who saved him from death. (That means Alanna has met death TWICE already. What a badass.)
  • I also adore the idea that Thom will one day meet up with his sister, and the two of them will go on wonderful adventures, defeating evil sorcerers. Can this please happen?
  • WHY IS ALANNA SHIELDED FROM BEING VIEWED IN THE FIRE? It’s totally the Duke, isn’t it???
  • Jonathan, I love that you are making friends with people who are beneath you in the social structure of your kingdom, and I love that you are doing it genuinely.
  • I really like that Pierce spends time on Alanna’s emotional complexity regarding her own self esteem and her gender issues. Both of them clash brutally within her, and she constantly questions her own ability because of them. I’m happy to see that this is acknowledged in the text.
  • OOOH, THE BAZHIR. I CAN’T WAIT. Oh god, please don’t let them be ~mysterious brown people in the desert~ CAN WE NOT GO THERE.
  • Okay, Pierce’s narration of Alanna’s match with Geoffrey is fantastic because I could understand every motion. Plus, Sklaw has to admit at the end that he can’t take credit for Alanna’s progress. SHIT YEAH, YOUNG WOMEN DOING SHIT ON THEIR OWN AND KICKING ASS AT THE SAME TIME.
  • I don’t ship Jonathan and Alanna, but by gods, do I love his friendship with her. HE CARES SO MUCH. He’s actually a nice member of royalty.
  • OH GOD, CALLING IT: Jonathan ultimately picks Alanna to be his squire. IT WOULD BE SO PERFECT.
  • OH SHIT YES, ALANNA GETS TO GO TO NAXEN WITH EVERYONE.
  • Everyone, I was so excited for this journey and the adventure these people would have, and then it was like Duke Roger grabbed every puppy in the world and threw them all off a cliff. Like, what the fuck are you doing? Is he seriously challenging Prince Jonathan so openly? Jonathan’s not that big of a fool, is he? Plus, THE BLACK CITY. NO, ALANNA HAS HAD VISIONS OF THAT PLACE, OH FUCK, SOMETHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
  • Wait, of course Jonathan is going to go, AND I BET ALANNA WILL GO WITH HIM, TOO.
  • OH NO, everything is going to go bad isn’t it oh my god what is happening.
  • HOLY SHIT, I’m almost done with Alanna already. MORE TORTALL BOOKS, MOOORRRREEE.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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6 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter Six – Womanhood

  1. Anna says:

    Possibly a different interpretation of the “you cannot change what the gods have made you” bit: It’s not that Alanna is trans* or genderqueer or anything (you could probably read her that way at least a little, I think, but not fully? It’s pretty clear that she does ID as female most of the time, even if she might be somewhat flexible about it): her distaste for being female, when it shows up, is entirely due to the position in society or the things about being female she dislikes. She doesn’t want to be a girl when it means that she can’t be a knight, or when she finds herself in situations where it’s a disadvantage, or when she gets her period or when she starts growing breasts. And it’s not because of a dysphoria or uncertainty about who she is, it’s because it’s inconvenient and frustrating and getting in the way of what she wants. (How many of us have had female friends who say they hate being female during their periods? It’s not that they’ve changed how they identify; it’s just an aspect of having a uterus [disclaimer: not an inherent female thing, not everyone with a uterus is female, not all women have a uterus] that they hate. I see it as a similar thing.)

    I could really easily see that being said to someone who’s trans* — the gods put you in this (male/female) body, but they still made you (female/male). There’s a difficulty in overcoming that, but you can’t deny who you are, and that’s who you have to be. Alanna, in my interpretation, is female, and she has to deal with that. A lot of the first book is about her overcoming things that are hard and not giving up just because they are hard — and being female, as I see it, is one of those challenges. Yeah, it’s way harder being a lady who trains for knighthood than being a dude who does it. But it doesn’t mean she can change that that’s who she is, and that’s what she wants to do, so those challenges are ones that she just has to face, and not give up when they get extra tough.

    tl;dr — Though I can def. see it being problematic like you did, Mark, I can also interpret it differently. We will probably never know how it was meant, though, since afaik there aren’t any trans* or genderqueer folk in Tortall. And even if it wasn’t meant in a problematic way, I can still see it being really hurtful to non-cis folk, and I don’t want to take away from that — I’m just offering a potential differing interpretation.

    • Nikki says:

      I agree with this so hard it’s ridiculous.
      It’s like you pulled my thoughts out and put them on screen.

    • Kat says:

      Actually there is a trans character in her Beka Cooper series. So there are trans characters in Tortall. (And that’s all I’m going to say because idk where it turns into a spoiler.)

  2. Michelle says:

    Someone on Tumblr recently asked me if things ever do get better in life, and while I’m not sure that’s an easy thing to quantify, I learned that keeping good, close, and reliable friends at hand can at least make things seem better, that no matter what shit life deals out to you, good friends can make most things tolerable.

    As always, Mark, you speak the words straight out of my tiny battered heart.

    Aaaaah I am so excited for you to read ALL THE BOOKS EVER by Pierce, your enthusiasm for them makes me so happy and wow this comment is not even a little bit helpful discussion-wise is it. ALANNA 4 PREZ?

  3. Kourtney says:

    Tamora Pierce was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I think it says something tht even though I’m 23 now, I STILL re-read these books and buy every new one that comes out. Mark, I was so excited when I saw that you were reading Alanna and I am so happy that you love it as much as I do.

    Also, you have NO IDEA how excited I am for you to read the rest of the books! I don’t know if you are just planning on reading the Tortall books, but I know that you would also love Pierce’s Circle of Magic books, as well. I would love to see your reviews for them too!

    I love what you do here on Mark Reads because it brings that fresh perspective. It’s almost like I’m reading them for the first time again too! <3

  4. maya says:

    I know you have suggestions turned off, but if you like this kind of trope, you should check out Mercedes Lackey. Mainly the Herald books/that entire universe. It’s a wonderful story. One of my all-time favorite series.

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