Title: Song of the Lioness
Author: Tamora Pierce
Pages: 960 (across four books)
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.