Review: Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce


Title: Song of the Lioness

Author: Tamora Pierce

Pages: 960 (across four books)

Goodreads link

My rating: 5/5

I’ve had a moment of nostalgia! The first two books in the Song of the Lioness series are older even than me, and the copies I have are knocking on the door of twenty years old. They’ve got that crusty old book smell about them, and sunlight and dust have yellowed the pages. But these are some of the most beloved books in my collection.

I first read them at secondary school, when I was about twelve or thirteen, and for a while my best friend and I were completely obsessed with all things Tamora Pierce. We were both real tomboys, never fitting in with the pretty girls at school. We wanted to be Lara Croft and go on adventures, finding treasures and solving mysteries. We were hungry for the world, life always too small for us. And Song of the Lioness spoke to our spirits like no other book had done before.

So this is a very personal review for me. We were at that stage and in that time when the destinies and interests of boys and girls had to be very different. And in reading these books, we discovered that the expectations of us were not necessarily valid. Here, in Alanna, was a girl who knew her mind, who didn’t care to let tradition dictate her life and who wasn’t afraid to take risks in the name of adventure. It was okay to have “male” ambitions.

I’m not going to say that the story is particularly original or complex, and I’m not going to say that the writing is particularly groundbreaking. In fact, re-reading the first and second books, The First Adventure and In the Hands of the Goddess, I realise they are actually not that amazing. Those two books in particular leap-frog through time, so you just get snippets of action here and there over eight years. They feel rushed and patchy, but back in the eighties, children’s books were extremely restricted by word count. However, the action does level out in the third and fourth books, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lioness Rampant. You get flowing sequential action that is much more engaging.

Funnily enough, re-reading them as an adult, I’ve now realised how much of a two-timing miss Alanna is! She sleeps with men here, she sleeps with men there, she sleeps with them pretty much anywhere, without bothering to cancel one liaison before taking up another. But then, that’s the point of these books really. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if she was a man. And that’s what I really appreciate about these books; it’s not just that Alanna is dressing up as a man, becoming a knight and going off on adventures, she’s breaking down barriers and looking stereotypes straight in the face and challenging them. Why shouldn’t a woman sleep around? Why shouldn’t a woman go off to face almost certain death without the protection of a man? Why shouldn’t a woman have absolute sovereignty over her reproductive system? Why shouldn’t a woman kill another person? Why shouldn’t she do as she pleases, inherit land and titles, marry whom she choses, dress how she wants? All things that men take for granted. And this is where the real greatness lies in Song of the Lioness. Tamora Pierce was not afraid to say, “Why can’t she do that?” She was challenging stereotypes and taboos all the way back thirty-plus years ago that are still in existence today, and that we still can’t relent from challenging today.

I’m so glad I read these again with my older and wiser head on. I can now appreciate consciously what I could only absorb subconsciously as a child. And I’m fairly certain that these books had a huge influence on the attitudes I hold today. Yes, I am a feminist, and no, that’s not a bad thing. All it means is that I believe that every woman should have the same rights and privileges as every man, and we should be judged by our actions and abilities without any reference to our gender. I have never yet heard a rational argument that convincingly persuades me otherwise. So, really, this is a big five-star thank you to Tamora Pierce and Alanna for empowering me at a time when there was very little else doing so. Keep adventuring, and stay true to yourself.

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton


Title: Rebel of the Sands

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Pages: 358

Goodreads link

My rating: 4/5

Okay, I’m going to hold my hands up here and confess that I bought this book because of the cover. I’m so ashamed! But, to be fair, it is a stunningly beautiful cover with gold foil and the kind of blues that you want to spend the rest of your life looking at. Even if I hadn’t read Rebel of the Sands, I would have just kept it on my shelf for its cover alone.

Right, enough about the cover! Mind you, I do have one large piece of beef about the cover: it’s got one of those irritating and unremovable circles with ‘Like Katniss? Love Rey? Meet Amani’ written on it. Ga! I hate these things! Could you announce any louder that you’re being a me-tooing, bandwagoning, other-people’s-work-leeching publisher? It’s nothing to do with the author, but it’s lazy marketing on the part of the publisher. And the fact that I can’t remove this really burns. It doesn’t even need it! The marketplace is flooded with strong, butt-kicking heroines. The blurb on the back of the book is enough to tell me Rebel of the Sands features another one. I don’t need to be patronised by the obvious!

But, in reality, that little unremovable circle sums up a problem that I have with Rebel of the Sands. The desert setting and Middle-Eastern flavour were a big selling point to me for this one. It’s not unheard of, but it’s pretty rare in this genre, and I was hoping to find myself breathing in one heck of a lungful of fresh air. But actually, apart from the setting, there is quite a healthy helping of deja vu here.

Strong heroine with a few broken bits meets handsome stranger who rescues her from a dire future and takes her to a place where she discovers she has magical powers and a mythical parent and might be the key to ridding the world of evil. Oh, and by the way, the handsome stranger turns out to be a prince. Shucks.

I’ve heard it before. In fact, I’ve heard it a thousand times before, in every other female-oriented YA book.

However, there are some redeeming features to Rebel of the Sands, and these are the reasons I gave it so many as four stars despite my rant. Firstly, the writing is excellent. It pulls you in right from the first chapter, and it was really the opening few chapters that kept me churning through to the end despite my growing disappointment in an over-hashed plot line. Amani has an engaging point of view, and it’s this point of view that brings me to another feature I liked: gender discrimination. No, I don’t mean I’m in favour of gender discrimination, I mean that Hamilton really explores a world where women are treated with great inferiority compared to men. It’s the kind of exploration that gets my hackles up and has me hissing and spitting in my head. It’s a long way from Western countries, but it’s important that we stay aware of inequality around the world and that especially young readers have a taste of how it is for others. When you are looking through the eyes of woman in an unequal world, it makes you want to appreciate what you have more and fight harder for those who don’t have it and keep fighting until genuine equality is achieved. Forget the story, this is actually one of the key takeaways of this book for me, and sometimes there are more important things in a book than the superficial plot.

I will be reading the other books in this series because I think (at least, I hope) there will be more important things to come. And who knows, maybe the story will acquire some novelty, and I’ll be even happier. You can’t know what a pie tastes like until you’ve eaten it, after all.