In the third chapter of Alanna, OH MY GOD THIS IS NOT AT ALL LIKE I EXPECTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Alanna.
Look, I’m just going to like stories about overcoming bullying. I am! It is a storytelling trope that I am so onboard with that I am probably entirely uncritical of the whole thing. I don’t need to go through the motions and tell y’all my sob story again, but anyone who’s been reading this site for a significant amount of time knows that I was bullied ruthlessly for many years of my childhood and teenage years. It’s definitely one of the reasons I respond so emotionally to stories of bullying and why I care about how they’re portrayed. And I can safely say that I have never read a story about bullying like this. NEVER.
It was easy for me to think about how bullying appeared in The Order of the Phoenix because that was the first time I chose to write about it for Mark Reads. I will always cherish that series, but it always bothered me how isolated Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Harry were when they were bullied. They dealt with these moments themselves, and it wasn’t often that the staff or any authority figure intervened. So, full stop, I honestly thought that this would unfold the same way. Ralon would bully Alanna, he’d largely get away with it, and the staff would either turn a blind eye, or they’d have no clue it was even going on.
I WAS SO WRONG. SO WRONG.
Chapter three chronicles Alanna’s brutal and frustrating feud with Ralon of Malven. In many ways, Ralon is the archetypical bully. He picks on those smaller than him; he’s crude and demeaning. He won’t openly bully people in front of the elders because, at heart, he’s a coward and afraid he’ll have to pay for his actions. But I love that Alanna refuses to let him win most of the time. She is stubborn, sure, but she knows that Ralon is an obstacle in her path towards knighthood. While she unknowingly has the support of the staff and her friends, she must defeat Ralon in her own way to win the respect of others. And I do like that this feels like a commentary on the inherently hyper-masculinity of this society, where violence and pride violently clash. These characters all accept the way this unfolds. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some crucial reflection; that happens at the end of the chapter when Jonathan speaks openly with Alanna about the moral implications of what she’s done.
I think that’s the point of all this, though. There’s no time for reflection in Alanna’s life in the weeks leading up to her fight with Ralon. Ralon is relentless in his attacks on Alanna. I was SUPER NERVOUS when he confronted her at the swimming hole. If he threw her in the water, it was entirely possible that the secret about her gender wouldn’t exactly be a secret anymore.
AND THEN RAOUL HELPS ALANNA BEAT UP RALON, AND THEN THE PRINCE WARNS RALON TO LEAVE ALANNA ALONE. Okay, first, let me just say that I never once fought back against any of my bullies except for the occasional time when I would get so furious at them that I’d try to yell logic at them, which works exactly 0.0001% of the time against a bully. I never hit any of them once. And to this day, I still harbor some very ridiculous revenge fantasies against most of these people. Allow me to hold on to this grudge until I die. I always wish I had had the strength or the courage to hurt these people back. So I totally understand if this chapter is like… way too much for some of you? Like, holy shit, it’s constantly violent. Not only that, I do get why people might find Alanna’s behavior to be over-the-top, or think that the prince or his friends went to far. I get that, but it’s not how I feel. Bullies routinely escape accountability, and this entire chapter is about Ralon getting his comeuppance. I like it because of my experience, but I understand that this might not be your thing.
Ugh, I just want to hug so many of these characters. I want to hug Sir Myles for offering support to Alanna and for openly trying to criticize the Code of Chivalry that he and the other knights and pages must live under. Is this why Sir Myles drinks? Was he forced into being a knight because of the rigid gender roles of this society?
“If you have to hit – hit low.”
She grinned and bowed. “Thanks, Sir Myles. I’ll keep that in mind.”
BLESS YOU, SIR MYLES. BLESS YOU.
So when Alanna did use this on Ralon the next day, I thought Tamora Pierce’s cutaway at the end of the scene meant that Alanna took him down. I was surprised and saddened, then, to learn that this was just the beginning. Ralon kicked her ass, and he annihilated her. And the act fills her with shame. Why else does she try to keep it to herself, despite that the signs she got her ass kicked are all over her body. She tries to lie to Coram, then to Raol, then to Alex, and then to the Prince himself. They all know she’s lying, but they accept that Alanna needs to solve this on her own. That’s made clear in the next scene where the point of view switches to Jonathan’s POV briefly. (Aside: oh my god, SHE NARRATES FROM OTHER CHARACTER’S POVs. THAT IS SO EXCITING TO ME.) Yet even though they know that Alanna’s going to have to end this herself, they still band together to help her out.
FRIENDSHIP. I LOVE FRIENDSHIP SO MUCH. And I love that Pierce shows us how people can combat bullying or support their friends if they’re getting bullied.
Well, wait, then there’s this:
“Let George do what he wants.” Then Gary frowned. “What do you mean, he’ll have your ears?”
Stefan’s eyes were calm. “George has a collection. One slip an’ he warns ye. Two, an’ he takes an ear – fer his collection. Three mistakes–” Stefan shrugged. “He takes t’other ear an’ all that’s attached. George likes things done right.”
HAHAHAahahaahhhaa adf;lkj askdfj;kdjaf ;asjkd a;a;jfd a;kdjsf WHAT THE FUCK IS LIFE. Oh shit, George is a whole lot more intimidating than the last.
And this book continues to get more intense. Ralon breaks Alanna’s arm, which is the exact moment where I stopped caring what happened to him. Yeah, dude, you’re the worst. And this part just made me sad:
“I fell down, your Grace,” she said, her face straight.
“Mithros, boy – can’t you think of a better excuse?”
Are you ready for more emotions?
“Alanna was opening the door when he added, “I wish you would thrash him. He deserves it.”
She looked back at him. I will one day, sir. I’m getting tired of falling down.”
I did not sign a contract allowing these feelings, everyone. I didn’t. This is not what I wanted.
Like the last chapter, a great deal of time passes rather quickly in the narrative. Alanna learns to fight with her left hand over the weeks, determined to beat him at his own game. She even uses her Gift to help heal herself. WHAT, I WANT THAT! When it’s finally healed, she seeks out George at the Dancing Dove, and oh boy, that conversation is so fascinating. In it, George reveals another detail about his life: he’s used to “noble” folks treating him as if he’s so inferior that they expect George to feel honored that they’re even friendly to him. But Alanna doesn’t treat him that way. (I think that’s because of where she was raised.) She really views him as a friend, and that’s why she just asks for advice on how to beat Ralon on her own. It’s why George respects her for being honest and true to him, too.
THERE ARE SO MANY FRIENDSHIPS FORMING HERE, AND I JUST ENJOY THIS SO MUCH.
When the time finally comes for Alanna to face Ralon, I didn’t expect her to lose. I didn’t! It seemed to be the natural course of things, especially since Pierce was dealing with this conflict just a third of the way through the book. I loved the way she taunted Ralon, and I knew she’d gain the upper hand by using both George’s and Coram’s techniques. I did not anticipate the fight being so brutal and bloody. I also didn’t expect that Ralon would LEAVE THE COURT. Oh my god, he ran out of that place with his tail between his legs. THIS IS SO FUNNY TO ME.
But this victory weighs heavily on Alanna’s conscience, and I think this is the best part of the entire chapter. She speaks to Sir Myles of how disgusted she feels about the techniques she used to trick Ralon. She feels she is no better than Ralon ever was. Even worse, she’s self-conscious about her gender. And that’s not something she can share with anyone. If she could only beat Ralon by tricking him, how can she hope to beat any of the other men in battle? She hasn’t quite figured this out yet, but I’m guessing Pierce will deal with the issue of confidence at a later date.
It’s Prince Jonathan who gives Alanna the most joy, though, pointing out that she’s ignoring the dynamic at hand. She defended herself. She only fought Ralon because he refused to leave her alone. Plus, as he points out, she is missing the fact that she’s becoming a knight. She’ll have to fight (and possibly kill) men in her life, and in the process of defeating Ralon, she’s come one step closer to being a knight, too.
Oh god, THEN SHE IS FRIENDS WITH JONATHAN. THERE ARE SO MANY FRIENDS EVERYWHERE, AND I LOVE IT.
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