Protector of the Small quartet, by Tamora Pierce: A Review

I recently veered wildly off track from my 2017 Reading Challenge and took up an entire series of books from the teen fiction section at my local library. I picked up the Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce and read the entire series. Though not on my list, it still fits within the “Year of the Series” theme, so I’m not entirely off base.

I’ve read some of Tamora Pierce’s books before and enjoyed them very much. Going in, I thought this was the series I’d read before, and that it was the first of Pierce’s Tortall quartets. I was wrong on both counts, but I don’t regret picking this one up.

If you haven’t read anything by Tamora Pierce, you may want to start with the Song of the Lioness quartet. While it isn’t necessary, this series can be enjoyed without it, there is some history in the first set of books that might prove useful.

I try to avoid spoilery commentary when I write reviews, so I apologize if this one reveals too much. Let this be fair warning, I suppose, if you don’t want to read the spoilery bits, you might want to skip to the end of the review.

This series follows the adventures of Keladry, the third daughter of a noble family of Mindelan, a province of the Tortall kingdom. It opens with book one, Keladry, or Kel as she prefers to be called, is trying to become the first girl to enter training to become a knight.

Kel’s story follows the Tortallan history in the Song of the Lioness quartet where girls have traditionally not been permitted to become knights. This previous series follows the rise of Alanna the Lioness as she becomes the realm’s first lady knight after disguising herself as a boy. A subsequent law now allows girls to try, and Kel is the first to take advantage of it.

At the beginning of the first book, First Test, a ten year old Kel learns that in order to enter training, she will be required to go through a probationary period of one year. Believing it unfair to require this of her when none of the boys are required to do this, Kel nearly withdraws before she ever begins.

Instead, Kel endures and goes on to even make a few friends in her first year of page training. There is no shortage of enemies either, and she is faced with hazing, bullying and open hostility by many of the other pages. She passes her probationary year despite the many people who would have preferred to see her drop out, and Kel is allowed to return for the next year of page training.

Book two, Page, chronicles the next three years of Kel’s page training. Here the series bogs down, as it is three years of identical activities. Training, Midwinter festival, more hazing, more bullying, more training. And it goes on. Until the final part of the book when Kel is forced to choose between her commitment to becoming a knight and her obligations as a noble, a decision forced on her by those who want nothing more than to see her fail. Again, overcoming overwhelming odds, Kel makes her choice and is prepared to live with the consequences.

In book three, Squire, Kel moves on in her training, eventually being chosen to serve as squire to a knight who commands an elite group of the king’s own guard. Over the course of the next four years she trains with her knight master, learning combat skills, jousting and how to command, among other things. Still, she has to work just as hard, if not harder to prove herself to a new set of doubters.

Events during this book take the kingdom of Tortall through a summer-long parade around the realm to announce the betrothal of the young prince complete with feasting, celebrations and jousting tournaments. Before the end of the summer, however, this tour is interrupted by rumblings of war from their northern neighbor, and Kel is reassigned along with her companions to help hold the border.

During her final test for knighthood, Kel is presented with a mysterious task that leads right into the events of book four, Lady Knight. As war rages along the northern border, Kel is placed in command of a refugee camp. Feeling frustrated that she has been placed in a “safe” assignment because she’s a girl, Kel nonetheless takes her responsibilities seriously.

Once more, Kel is put into a position where she is forced to choose between her duty to her commanding officer and by extension, the realm, and her responsibility to protect the people under her command. She is finally thrust into the role she’s been training for throughout the entire series, the Protector of the Small.

Overall, the Protector of the Small series is fantastic. It’s the coming of age story of a girl pursing a non-traditional life in a society that doesn’t necessarily appreciate such behavior. Keladry of Mindelan is a strong character who knows what she believes in and isn’t afraid to stand up for it. The series opens with her attempting to save a bag of kittens from being drowned by bullies, demonstrating her willingness to go above and beyond to protect those who are weaker.

The series continues along this same path with Kel demonstrating again and again this need to protect others. She takes on a shy maid, a flock of sparrows, an abused gelding, even an ungrateful griffin baby, all on her journey to her ultimate task.

Though Pierce writes for a younger audience, these books can be enjoyed by adults as well. She writes the story of Kel, never “talking down” to her audience, and never apologizing for what goes on in her stories. Pierce doesn’t shy away from the tough subjects, and it gives her stories a deeper realism, even within the fantasy realm she’s created.

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