Top 5 Things We Love About Tamora Pierce October 9, 2011Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
Almost until I was in college, the majority of the fantasy books I read came from my brother Danny. When we were kids, I would read anything set in another time period (preferably pioneer days or World War II) and he would read anything with a sword on the cover. More than fifteen years later, some of the books he introduced me to have become old favorites, shared with Ana, quoted at length, argued over and read to pieces. The many books of Tamora Pierce are no exception. Pierce has a new book coming out in a couple of weeks, so it seemed a good time to list the Top Five Things We Love About Tamora Pierce.
5. Overlapping stories.
Pierce has written five series’ set in the imaginary country of Tortall. Beginning with Song of the Lioness, ending with Trickster and including the prequel Beka Cooper, Pierce shows us a country in transition, growing from a feudal, somewhat lawless society to a more democratic nation with a vocal middle class. Characters from her later series’ encounter the protagonists from the early books and we see how their lives have affected those around them. We also get different perspectives on various characters and events, seeing heroes who are feared as well as lauded. One of the pleasures of reading Pierce’s later books is seeing glimpses of how earlier characters, large or small, grew up.
Song of the Lioness was originally written as an adult fantasy-romance, a fact which probably contributes to the somewhat trite loves scenes early in the quartet. Of course the heroine ends up with the prince, whom she has served faithfully as squire while disguised as a boy. Only….wait a minute. She doesn’t. Yes, Pierce has a habit of creating the perfect mates for each of her heroines, even if they sometimes come from unconventional places (when was the last time a YA fantasy heroine married a crow?). But she always makes sure that her leading men respect the women and even allows one protagonist to end her series single and happy with it. There is something for everyone, romantics, cynics and the somewhere-in-between with Pierce’s fiction.
3. Realism in fantasy
One of Pierce’s main complaints about writers like Tolkien and Lewis, is that they ignore basic realities of life, like going to the bathroom. No one could say the same thing about the Tortall books. Bathroom logistics, pregnancy, menstruating and cramps are all challenges her characters must still deal with, even in the midst of talking to griffins and battling Stormwings. Every now and then, she takes the easy way out and creates a magical solution for something (her anti-pregnancy charms, for example, are a great way to discuss birth control with teen girls) but for the most part, she sticks to reality, allowing us to see ourselves more clearly within her characters.
The downfall of most fantasy is the weak or elusive explanations of how, exactly, magic works. Even acclaimed, classic, or just plain well-written fantasy falls prey to this Achilles heel (witness Harry Potter, Narnia, and the works of E. Nesbit). By contrast, Pierce describes her characters using their magic (often for healing) as a calling up of something inside them. In Wild Magic, the character Numair explains to his student Daine, “What you must do on your own is apply your magic to the break and will it to heal…the strength of your desire is what will complete the task. You must want this to work more than anything, and keep on wanting it, no matter how weary you become” (184).
Pierce stated that when she was growing up, there weren’t very many teen books with strong female characters. By 1983, when Alanna, the First Adventure was published, little had changed. We had not yet met Hermione, Lyra Silvertongue, Cimorene or Katniss Everdeen. Whether they hunt down magical monsters, organize spies, fight in battle or spin thread, Pierce’s heroines never question their unique talents. When faced with the challenges of serial killers, arsonists, prejudice and malice, they persevere and pursue their goals single-mindedly. Anyone interested in thoughtful, complex, and adventurous role models for girls should start with a book by Tamora Pierce.