In the second chapter of Alanna, Alanna’s first day of classes are exhausting and demeaning, but she soon learns to accept the choice she’s made to become a knight. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Alanna.
Two: The New Page
Oh, this is just fun. I’m pretty sure that this book has the youngest intended audience. It’s fairly simplistic writing, but Tamora Pierce is still telling a good story regardless. And I really don’t need jaw-dropping prose to love a story, you know?
Right from the start, I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed by what Alanna was assigned to do. I think that the Duke certainly warned her (and the readers) of this, yet as intimidating as he was, he DID NOT PREPARE ME FOR HOW BRUTAL HER LESSONS WOULD BE. Though, to be fair, he did show off his missing finger. WHAT IS THE CHAMBER OF THE ORDEAL, AND HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT A TEST FOR KNIGHTHOOD COULD KILL SOMEONE? Oh my god, this is years away for Alanna, isn’t it? And that’s assuming something doesn’t happen to prevent it from occurring.
Alanna has a few close calls (HOLY SHIT, THE TAILORS) before she gets her first proper introduction to being a page: she’s bullied. Well, that was quick, wasn’t it? Ralon, I hate your face and I barely even know what it looks like. He has “cold blue eyes” and “sandy-blonde hair” and “crooked teeth” and I hate every aspect of this. I expected a fairly common bullying archetype to play out here, especially once Alanna started standing up for herself. So I was shocked when Prince Jonathan not only chastised Ralon, but he didn’t punish Alanna at all, openly acknowledging that Ralon is the worst. THEN HE EVEN HELPS HER FIND AN OLDER BOY TO SPONSOR HER. Wow, this is fantastic.
And I think a lot of that has to do with something other than the fact that Pierce doesn’t follow expectations. A great deal of this second chapter is about making friends. Alanna goes through an experience many of us can relate to, and I can see how it’s meant to represent what it’s like to start at a new school and not know anyone. But Pierce shows us how humor and kindness help Alanna find friends rather easily. She’s nice and respectful to everyone she meets, and over the few months that pass in this chapter, she becomes closer not only with Gary, but a few other students and pages.
Things do get better by the end of chapter two, but the majority of this section is frustrating and exhausting to read. I had to remind myself that despite the similarities, this was not like starting school on the first day of classes. Alanna showed up and joined something that had already started. It’s much, much harder for her to integrate into the days’ activities because she’s so far behind. Almost no one is at the same level as her. It got me wondering how these new pages were handled. Do all the students take the same set of lessons every day? How are lessons adapted for these new students? I noticed that many times, Alanna was separated from the group to learn certain things others had already mastered. While it’s great that this is done, wow, that certainly doesn’t make a person feel better. Alanna often feels singled out and alone throughout her lessons.
AND THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM! I admit that I related SO HARD to Alanna’s complete fury at the concept of free time, and it was something I loathed about high school. I never understood (and still don’t!) why teachers just assumed you had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD to do their 8 BILLION PAGE PAPERS IN THREE DAYS. I suppose that was even worse for me, since I was taking so many Advanced Placement classes. Those teachers actually met regularly, since they were part of a team, and they still seemed so oblivious to how much homework they were giving us. I am not a machine.
That means that Sir Myles of Olau is the only relief in Alanna’s day. He gets Alanna to think, he argues with students, he’s drunk a lot, and Alanna can actually feel like his lessons are engaging, which is an important thing in this environment. But then everything is back to MORE WORK and MORE LESSONS and then HOURS OF HARSH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. Oh my god, I was so tired just reading these words, and then I felt phantom soreness when she woke up the next day and could barely move. God, that sort of “sore all over” soreness is the worst. Like, have you ever gotten a sore spot where you didn’t know you could be sore? Just the other day, the tendons around my ELBOW were sore. WHO KNEW YOU COULD HAVE A SORE ELBOW? Whoever invented this should take it back.
I was surprised at how quickly time passed in this chapter. After Alanna has her breakdown in front of Coram at the end of the third day, I still expected this chapter to progress on a day-to-day basis. I figured that if she was still having trouble adjusting, we’d get to see that gradual process. But now I get the sense that Pierce is getting this out of the way to prepare for something else. Alanna begins to learn the very discipline Coram told her about, and she finds a place within her group of peers. No one suspects she’s really a young girl, and the Duke himself is rather proud of her progress. That doesn’t mean things are easy, or that Alanna is some perfect genius. She still struggles with her everyday tasks and assignments.
For that, she’s rewarded with a trip to the City, and she takes the Duke’s son to accompany her. This is when we re-meet George Cooper, the thief Alanna glimpsed in the previous chapter. And this interaction goes completely in the opposite direction than I expected. He’s the big thief in town, so I thought he and Gary would pretty much instantly despise one another. BUT NOPE. Not at all. I kinda love this??? I mean, not only that dynamic, but the fact that Alanna and George both have the Gift of magic within them means that ADVENTURES ARE IN STORE FOR THEM. Oh god, can these three go do awesome quests and shit?
Yet despite all this joy, this chapter ends on a sad note. Alanna’s father nearly spoils the swap by writing to the Duke and asking about Thom, but Alanna swiftly covers this up by claiming that her father simply doesn’t pay attention. While it’s a relief that the Duke believes her (since he was like this when the Duke knew him), it ends up making Alanna emotional about her family. Truthfully, her father has never seemed to care for her. Even if this is to her advantage now, I can tell that she really does want a loving, attentive father in her life.
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