Mark Reads ‘The Woman Who Rides Like a Man’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Alanna must handle the responsibility of training new shamans for the tribe. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Woman Who Rides Like a Man.

Chapter Four: Studies in Sorcery

OH, THIS IS JUST GREAT. As much as this is about Alanna teaching her three new friends about magic, it’s also about her continued maturity as a person. While Faithful’s comments halfway through this chapter about Alanna becoming an adult are funny, I think they do address the fact that Alanna still has a lot of growing up to do. Tamora Pierce had made it abundantly clear at this point that Alanna cared more about her physical strength and skill than she did about her magical powers. It’s rooted in the very premise of the entire quartet: Alanna and her twin brother traded places specifically so she could avoid learning advanced sorcery. She also spent the previous two books struggling with her Gift and the responsibilities it brought her. Now? She’s responsible for training three teenagers/children. Oh my god, this is HILARIOUS TO ME. It’s like some cosmic irony is at work here. Alanna chose a life of weapons and badassery to avoid magic, and she still has to teach it anyway.

Please tell me the Mother has a sense of humor.

Through this, Alanna also has to navigate the rigid gender roles of the Bloody Hawk society. There’s never been a single woman shaman before, and now she wants to train two more. But both Ali Mukhtab and Halef Seif are increasingly reasonable about how they address changes to their culture. They know that things can’t stay the same forever, and the acknowledge Alanna’s talent in the process. And it’s just as fascinating to see how this affects Kara and Kourrem, too! They’ve been ignored and outcast by their own tribe, and Alanna accepts them. It’s difficult for Alanna to cope with this situation, though, because she’s so averse to building up her own magic except when she absolutely needs it. Plus, her only real experiences with advanced sorcery are negative. There’s Duke Roger, first of all, and y’all don’t need me to tell you why that’s a negative thing. But Ishak’s reaction to his power reminds Alanna of her own twin brother’s arrogant, detached behavior.

And yet, she still persists, knowing how much it means to these three kids to have someone on their side, teaching them how to control the powers they’ve been shamed for for years. Alanna knows that “ignoring magic is worse.” That’s something Alanna knows without a doubt. As much as she wishes her path might be different, she recognizes the responsibility she’s been given, and she doesn’t hesitate to do what is necessary.

“I’m glad I have you to keep me humble,” she muttered as she readied herself for sleep.

I’m glad you do, too, Faithful replied, settling himself by her nose.

Faithful, you are incredible.

Alanna’s dream about Duke Roger is creepy as fuck, and I hate knowing that he can still haunt her even after he has died. Oh god, he can’t come back can he? I think the clue to unraveling this is in that goddamn sword she has. I need to know how it’s connected to him! Did he create it? Is he a part of some fucked up cult? I need answers.

Alanna’s lessons with the kids are entertaining, and even if she isn’t the best teacher in the world, it’s nice to see her try her best. I don’t know that I would say she’s a natural at what she does, especially since she struggles with her own patience and distaste for what she’s doing. She snaps at Ishak and Kourrem, but that’s probably because she’s not used to doing this. Well, and she underestimates how powerful Ishak and Kourrem are without any formal training. Still, it’s really awesome that she’s taking part in something that’s so deeply important to these three characters. I fully expect it to be an ongoing joke that her students rush to hug her after every lesson.

I’ve grown to like and respect Halef Seif. It’s clear he also respects Alanna, since he asks her to go out on a private ride with him. There, Alanna takes the opportunity to tell him that she wants her apprentices to sit with her at the fire, a practice reserved mostly for men. I got the sense that Halef had expected this much of Alanna and just wanted to tease her for a bit while she tried to argue her case. But I didn’t get a chance to find out anymore because the two come upon five hillsmen looking for herds. When Alanna and Seif engage with them, I didn’t expect the violence to be so brutal. Within seconds, Alanna kills one of the hillsmen with the enchanted sword, and this happens:

For an instant sick, black triumph roared into her mind. She froze, knowing the sword’s magic was turning her fierce pride in being the better fighter into an ugly joy at killing. She trembled, fighting the desire to run the man through again and again, until Halef Seif yelled her name.

HEY ALANNA, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY GET RID OF THAT SWORD. Oh my god, what the fuck is that thing? It’s obviously infused with pure evil or something. It made her feel joy for killing someone. THAT SEEMS LIKE A REALLY BAD THING. Plus, she has to fight her opponent and the sword if she chooses to use it, so why keep it around?

“I’ve promised myself I will master this blade, and I will,” she said between gritted teeth. “No sword – not even this one – is going to be me.”

Ah, Alanna and her pride. Does anyone ship that yet? Like Halef, I do admire her commitment, but I worry if she’s going to let her pride get the best of her. I think that comes up again when Kourrem and Kara sit at the campfire the first time. Alanna is surprised that it’s the other women who pushback against the young women the most, and I was concerned that Alanna might not be understanding of what this particular cultural tradition meant.

She could force them to like the changes she had brought to the Bloody Hawk.

That made me feel a lot better. I was pleased that Alanna made this distinction, that she wasn’t there to change this entire culture without any respect for how things once were. To acknowledge this is to admit that amidst all the excitement, Alanna’s actions have had a serious affect on other people. That’s not to say that Kourrem and Kara shouldn’t be allowed at the fire; rather, people need to choose what it is they want instead of being forced to abide by a cultural standard. I think that’s why Alanna is later comforted by the fact that Kourrem isn’t exactly excited to be married as of yet. It’s a part of both their cultures, but for the moment, these two women choose not to take a part in it. It doesn’t mean marriage is inherently immoral or awful; it’s just not for them.

I still see a parallel between Thom and Ishak, and I’m curious to see if Pierce will further develop his impatience. I’m happy that Pierce is bringing this up, especially considering Ishak has been largely marginalized for his abilities. Now, he’s discovering what this power can do, and he simply wants more. I hope that Alanna can keep him under control!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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