With their red hair and purple eyes, Alanna and Thom of Trebond couldn’t look more alike for a set of boy and girl twins. Unfortunately they couldn’t be more dissimilar in their aspirations: Alanna would like to be a knight, while Thom would like to become a sorcerer, the exact opposite of what their father intends. That’s when spunky Alanna has the most brilliant idea for a ten-year-old: to change places. As Alan of Trebond, Alanna is off to the palace to learn sword-fighting, grappling and all the other subjects taught to boys such as deportment, writing, and mathematics. Alanna is expected to work harder than she ever has, and at first she’s overwhelmed. But as soon as she adjusts to the rigorous schedule and befriends the other boys, including Prince Jonathan and King of the Thieves George, there’s no question in her staying to complete the training. She’s just beginning to really shine when the prince falls ill, and her healing Gift is his only hope. Will Alanna risk revealing her true gender to save her friend?
I can’t remember where I first came across the name of Alanna, but The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce is ubiquitous in fantasy circles and for that I mentally marked it as to-read in the near future. I’m not surprised I missed it when I was younger, since without anyone pushing me in the right direction my reading didn’t extend much past never-ending series books like Sweet Valley High or the Babysitter’s Club. Now that I’ve read it though I know that my twelve-year-old self seriously missed out.
Not that I’m an authority on the subject, but the first thing I noticed about Alanna is that it felt like old school fantasy, as it should. The world of sorcery and knights is very traditional, and despite the book beginning with a bang – Alanna’s scheme to switch places, which happens in the first few pages and for covering a few years of Alanna’s life in under three hundred pages it feels more slow-paced than most contemporary YA. On one hand I liked that there is time to get to know Alanna through her average, day-to-day life at the palace. Excepting one bully, she makes and keeps friends easily. Despite initially feeling burdened by her class load, she quickly adjusts to the work, stops complaining, and thrives under the pressure. Even her gender never seems to be the issue I expected it to be. My favorite part was when Alanna attempts to heal the prince. It was suspenseful and unpredictable. After that plot line played out my interest in this light, fun story waned a bit. I could only enjoy hanging out with Alanna and her friends to a point without more action or a real sense of danger. As I mentioned earlier my twelve-year-old self would’ve eaten this up, but my adult self? Without the nostalgia of discovering this for the first time as a child or more depth or complexity overall I had little urgency to finish this book. I managed to do so because I’ve been told the series improves with each successive book as Alanna grows up. This is not to say that I didn’t like Alanna; on the contrary I liked her spunk and her self-assured yet vulnerable personality very much. I can see now that the strong, independent, and assertive heroines of YA fantasy today are indebted to her. And although Alanna: The First Adventure wasn’t my personal cup of tea, I’m interested in reading more and already have In the Hand of the Goddess on my shelf.