Mark Reads ‘The Woman Who Rides Like a Man’: Chapter 1

In the first chapter of The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, Alanna and Coram discover just what their adventure holds. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Woman Who Rides Like A Man.

Chapter 1: The Woman Who Rides Like A Man

HAHSADKFLJH OH SHIT I AM SO UNPREPARED FOR THIS. THIS IS GREAT.

It’s so weird to already be in the third book in this quartet. I’ve never experienced a series that progresses so rapidly, so I’m excited that Alanna is now an adult, she’s on an adventure, and Faithful still rides in a cup. On the saddle. WHERE IS THE FANART TO SHOW THIS TO ME?

Just from this chapter, it’s clear to me that Alanna’s adventure is kind of aimless. And that’s not a complaint because I think it would be strange if she knew what she was doing right from the start. Honestly, that would have been too convenient, you know? She’s heading off into the wilderness, essentially, with only Faithful and Coram. Her mission was “FIND ADVENTURE.” While she does find that at the beginning of this book, Pierce is sure to make it seem like Alanna and her companions have been moving about randomly.

For at least a small portion of this third book in the Song of the Lioness quartet, it appears that we’ll be spending time with the Bazhir, which is something I have wanted more than most things. Honestly, I’m far more interested in their society than the society at the Court. Thankfully, Pierce greatly elaborates on the Bazhir culture over the course of chapter one. It’s impossible to ignore that they’re very similar to Arab cultures in our world, from the names, the dress, and some of the elements of social norms. It’s sort of all wrapped up to one, and my initial worry is they’d be villains simply by virtue of being different. I mean, that’s sort of what I expect from fantasy novels and a reason why I stayed away from the genre from so long.

But there’s a lot Tamora Pierce does here that’s ridiculously fascinating to me. First of all, she gives them a rigid moral code, one that’s contrasted with the hillman and similar to the codes of chivalry from the Court. Alanna and Coram fear the hillmen for their amorality and brutality, and that’s not the same reason they’re anxious around the Bazhir. During the attack of the hillman in the opening of this chapter, this sense of doom is demonstrated when Coram is injured PRETTY MUCH IMMEDIATELY. Oh, and the giant dude she’s fighting uses no tactics she’s seen before. God, I love that little detail. Why else would he follow traditional fighting form?

Oh, right, then this dude BREAKS LIGHTNING. Look, y’all, this shit happens on like page SIX. Alanna loses her mystical, magical sword IN THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE BOOK. No, this doesn’t happen in books. Like, I know it may not be the biggest deal in the world, and it’s entirely possible this is a disposable detail in this story, but Lightning was her ~magical~ sword from Myles! It’s supposed to be with her the entire journey! Oh god, what else am I going to be surprised by?

A dark finger – or was it a pole? – pointed at a crystal-blue sky. Before it stood a man wearing tattered gray; his eyes were mad. She could smell wood smoke.

HAHAHA WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN. WHAT THE HELL. You know, I can’t even guess what this vision is.

Alanna and Coram are (sort of?) saved by Halef Seif, the headman of the Bloody Hawk tribe. It’s here that Pierce begins to paint us a portrait of the lives of the Bazhir. I understand now that they live in tribes, that each has their own leadership, and that they value honesty. It’s perhaps the greatest single cultural detail that Pierce gives these people. They value fairness and honesty in their own way, though I admit it’s somewhat twisted. Instead of merely killing the “trespassers” on their land, the Bazhir who discover Coram and Alanna give them a chance to not only explain themselves, but later prove their worth. I think it would have been side-eye-worthy had Pierce gone down the route of portraying this community with the any tropes related to the concept of savagery. As it is, the Bazhir are “othered” from the society we had seen in the first two books, so I think it’s important to view this with a critical eye. The women in Bazhir society wear face veils, and the men wear a burnoose, and these are mostly likely purposeful visual cues. That would make these people analogous with North Africans, yes? Given that a burnoose is generally more associated with people from Algeria or Morocco. Anyway, obviously those countries don’t exist in Tortall, but it’s still important to talk about why these people exist in the way that they do.

I loved the three inquisitive kids. I loved that Alanna did not criticize these people for being different from her. The narration in the second half of this chapter is very matter-of-fact, and I appreciate it. I guess I’m just so used to this cultural dichotomy unfolding with disgust or prejudice that it’s pleasant when it happens this way. I’m further interested in Akhnan Ibn Nazzir’s characterization, and I hope he’s not a villain merely for the sake of it. I mean, at this point, Alanna is basically without a foe to face, and here’s a shaman who uses magic for his own gain. He’s basically Roger II, isn’t he?

Halef leads the tribe’s meeting, which is what I’m guessing is the Moment of the Voice that Ishak spoke of to Alanna. The Bloody Hawk tribe takes the idea of a reasoned discussion very seriously, and it’s one of the coolest things about their portrayal. That’s not to ignore other elements of their culture that are revealed here. They also value men in a different way than they do women, though women do have a part in other matters. Alanna is also quite familiar with the fact that they react rather similarly to some of the people at Court once they see she is a woman doing what is traditionally a man’s job. To some, this is offensive and outrageous; others believe that she should have the chance to prove herself. The shaman is clearly satisfied with the thought of her death, though I’m not sure what it is Alanna possesses that the shaman wants so much. Lightning is broken, and Faithful would tear apart the shaman’s face before he ever got his hands on him.

But that’s clearly not going to happen, unless the remaining nine chapters of this book feature Alanna as a ghost. That would be really awesome, by the way. She gets the chance to prove herself by combat! That’s good, since she’s rather talented. But she’s without a sword, so… she has to use her axe? I don’t even know, y’all. How is she going to get around this one?

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About Mark Reads

Vegan cyclist, Internet community nerd, atheist bookworm, high-five purveyor.
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