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June 11, 2011 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Tamora Pierce is a writer of YA fantasy whose novels primarily feature female protagonists. Among other things, her novels explore privilege and prejudice within her fantastic cultures. In a recent interview for The Atlantic, she talks about why we need more girl heroes, the use of birth control for her teenage characters, and the myth of “sappy, sugary, true love”.
posted by Rory Marinich (57 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really love her books. I read the Alanna series as an adult and was surprised at how unusually keen and insightful they were for the intended audience. So far the only series that has disappointed me was Protector of the of the Small - it lacked her usual style and all four books were so repetitive throughout.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:54 AM on June 11, 2011


Tamora Pierce was my bread-and-butter during my teen years. It's good to see that she's still around -- I gather that her books tend to be fairly similar to each other, so I think I'd have a hard time reading them now without finding them repetitive, but I'm glad that 'kids nowadays' are able to find Pierce's characters to be role models.

(It feels so weird to distance myself from the young adults now! I'm still only in my 20s!)
posted by tickingclock at 6:56 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love her so much. I'm 33 and I still read her books when I'm feeling blue and need to like the universe better. Plus now I have disposable income and can buy them all.

I actually really liked Protector of the Small though I know that's a bit of a minority position. I find Kel's courage really inspiring.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 AM on June 11, 2011


I was just a bit too old (and in the wrong country) when Tamora Pierce's first books were coming out. After that article, I'm inclined to go back and read them.
posted by immlass at 7:02 AM on June 11, 2011


I loved the Alanna and Circle of Magic books back in the day! Funny, it used to actually really bug me that they had access to magical birth control, because it wasn't realistic to a medieval setting... but reading this interview, it's clear that she included it because her audience has access to it, and she wants to show that it's ok.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:03 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the first things I did when I got my Kindle was find digital copies of everything Tamora Pierce had ever written and stick them on; I keep expecting one year I'll go back and read them and find that they've lost some of their magic, but with the exception of the occasional weird "this is a sentence written for a young person" phrasing, I still get lost in them.

I loved Protector of the Small, because it highlights one of the things Pierce is best at — small-scale social politics. What got me into Circle and Alanna from the start was its depiction of how its characters interacted, but both of those series only last a little while before deliberately splitting its group up and creating new scenarios. Protector inherited the Tortall universe with all its characters, and for three books straight it presented its one cast of characters. Pierce wrote back then that she was inspired by J. K. Rowling, and this was when her books started getting much longer; but I think she must have also been inspired by how Rowling presented her cast of characters and then year by year turned them into different people. Kel is a bit too straightforward of a character but her friends, her maid, and the people watching over her all change when she comes into contact with them. I liked that.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I should have clarified that young adult books are often repetitive, which I find insulting to the reader. For example, throughout Twilight and The Hunger Games so many points were repeated it was annoying. Most people get that Bella has a vampire boyfriend or that Katniss has to choose between Gale and Peeta, and don't need the constant reminding. I did like the first two Small books, but the last one was in need of some real editing - Pierce got pretty bogged down in describing the management of the fort that it overshadowed the idea that women can wield power in different ways. It was like reading about someone's day at the office instead of medieval adventure fantasy.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:17 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I totally got into a vocal internet argument on the thread to the livejournal post. As if you guys don't see me doing that enough already!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:26 AM on June 11, 2011


I stumbled across Alanna: The First Adventure in the library at age eleven, and I must've borrowed that book a dozen times before I finally found my own copy. It and the first sequel were my comfort reads for years.

I never particularly thought about why I loved them. I just knew I did. Now, of course, it's obvious: I loved them because Alanna was a capital-H hero. She wasn't the love interest. She wasn't the token girl. She wasn't kidnapped or enslaved or entombed and sat around crying waiting for somebody to rescue her. Alanna was awesome.

As an adult, I can see the problems. Alanna is a Very Special Heroine, and though she has genuine obstacles that she overcomes with hard work and discipline, she's also playing with a stacked deck. She becomes a brilliant swordswoman, a gifted magician, befriends the prince of the realm and the king of the thieves, and is given gifts by the Gods, including a magical talking cat. (Oh, how I wanted a magical talking cat!) It's no different from the stacked decks that many male heros are given, especially in fantasy novels, but it still grates a little.

Alanna was first published in the early 80's. Pierce lead the charge for the feminist heroine, and for a while it looked like the tide was turning... and then somehow, the tide turned back. There's awesome books being published in YA at the moment, but there's also a metric ton of paranormal romances with doormat heroines and heroes that stalk because they love. In some ways, I think these books are worse than the books where the girl characters do nothing, because the doormat girls are meant to be the heroines. They're meant to be the ones that the (female) reader connects with.

I went to hear Pierce talk when she was in Sydney six or seven years ago. I wondered beforehand if the audience would be all female, but there were a lot of males, too. Very cool to see young boys clutching their Alanna books as they waited to get them autographed.
posted by Georgina at 7:27 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


As for her books, I missed them when I was a kid (I remember seeing them in the book store, but by then I was past my cross-dressing as a knight phase [yes, this was a thing] and had moved on to Animorphs). I've read the first two Alanna books, but they really show their age and are kinda cheesy. Still, I admire what she was doing, at a time when no one else was doing it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:27 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a 30-year-old straight dude and I just re-read some Tamora Pierce recently and it was still good. That is all.
posted by zeek321 at 7:29 AM on June 11, 2011


Whoops, my bad; I actually thought the link about girl heroes was going to go here, which is an older, but more in-depth discussion, written in response to another YA writer talking about boys and YA. If you're interested in such things, they're actually both pretty interesting, and I think they show a strong generational divide in both modern feminism (the other YA author is 20, and I think her attitudes belie a sort of post-feminism slant only made possible through the actions of writers like Pierce) and YA writing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:33 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


...it highlights one of the things Pierce is best at — small-scale social politics.

Prefaced by saying that I didn't read the Tamora Peirce books when my son was reading them, I probably wouldn't have gotten through them for the same reason I've never read YA fiction (even when I was a 'YA') being that the core of these novels is always endless permutations on the politics of social relationships. This is what this genre is about whether they have a veneer of medieval fantasy, vampires, or whatever. Actually, I think the problem for me is a little more subtle than that, it's not just that these books are about social relationships, but they are really about normalized social relations after something goes wrong, either externally or when a character does something to break the stasis. I think it's an internal contradiction if you want to have female characters breaking the mold if in the end they still get the feel good about having friends, if the truth is that being different, really different, means alienating everyone around you in a way that can never be resolved neatly.

Of course male fantasy gets around this by being mini-Triumphs of the Will. But the core social idea is that "superman" is alone in his fortress of solitude wherever he goes. Thigns being what they are, I think a female character with that attitude is more than likely to come off as a sociopath rather than a hero...

So I probably won't be reading Tamora Peirce for the same reason I never got into Jane Austen. But, the problem for 'feminist' YA literature is that the genre is predicated on one of the social traps women find themselves at a young age: being judged by their social relationships rather than their actions or character.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2011


So you haven't read Tamora Pierce, but you can tell already that she represents a failing in feminist literature?

Really?
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:35 AM on June 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


I probably wouldn't have gotten through them for the same reason I've never read YA fiction (even when I was a 'YA') being that the core of these novels is always endless permutations on the politics of social relationships. This is what this genre is about whether they have a veneer of medieval fantasy, vampires, or whatever.

You know, it's kinda anti-feminist to devalue the concerns of real women/girls, including social concerns, and to imply that they should be concerned with REAL IMPORTANT STUFF like solitude and politics.

Anyway, if you want to read YA that examines the politics of difference and the implications of being an individual actor rather than a social animal, The Hunger Games trilogy, especially the third book, looks at exactly that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


You know, it's kinda anti-feminist to devalue the concerns of real women/girls, including social concerns, and to imply that they should be concerned with REAL IMPORTANT STUFF like solitude and politics.

My point about the fortress of solitude is that traditionally male fantasy (literature) is just as much a trap as fantasy for women and furthermore, being totally indifferent to the concerns of others is a form of sociopathy. The traditional male hero has to toe a narrow line of implicit social constraints to avoid sociopathy but at the same time is convinced he is acting according to his own will. The female actor (in books like Pierces) still has to process her actions with her friends.

It's not that social concerns aren't real, it's that one of the problems with being the hero is that you do alienate everyone around you in a way that can't really be talked through.

So you haven't read Tamora Pierce, but you can tell already that she represents a failing in feminist literature?

No, what I'm saying is that if you want to write genre fiction that's predicated on sexist paradigms your going to have a hard time with feminism no matter how heroic your heroine is. YA is hardly feminist literature.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:56 AM on June 11, 2011


YA is hardly feminist literature.

I'm making a noise of frustrating. There's plenty of YA (which you said yourself you don't really read) that is feminist. I can, like, write a list for you if you want.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:59 AM on June 11, 2011 [19 favorites]


A noise of frustration, too. Time to get myself more coffee.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh boy, time to share my Tamora Pierce story!!

I got into the Alanna books in 3rd/4th grade, and loved them to death; my copies almost immediately got ragged, and I found her so inspiring and fun. At around the same time, my family had just gotten a subscription to AOL, back when it had all the gated areas for various topics and surfing "the web" wasn't really a thing. I loved it, was totally enthralled, and I spent many afternoons wandering around the Kids section.

At one point, I learned that Tamora Pierce, MY FAVORITE AUTHOR, had her own area in the Kids section! There was a fairly active messageboard, and she would answer questions, things like that. So, I got up the courage to ask her if I could send her a book to be autographed. And, she said yes! So my dad helped me pack up my precious Alanna book in a manila envelope with a stamped envelope and we sent it along.

Long story short, she sent back not only my book, autographed, but a couple of signed promo photos, and a handwritten note tucked into the book, thanking me for my support and asking me some questions about my life. Over the course of that year, we became bona-fide pen pals; I would tell her about my family and my favorite parts of the Alanna books, she would respond with stories about her childhood and little backstage tidbits about the writing of the books.

The letters eventually petered off, but I treasured the ones I had received from her, carrying them around in the original manila envelope my signed book had been sent back in. To this day, I still can't quite believe that it happened, that a pretty damn well-known author would carry on a correspondence that personal with one of her 9-year old fans who stumbled upon her on AOL. I am so grateful to her for that experience, and I honestly think it helped shape me into a more thoughtful and creative person. Thanks, Tamora. :)
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:05 AM on June 11, 2011 [25 favorites]


...written in response to another YA writer talking about boys and YA.

One of the odd things about that post by Moskowitz is that she is so ensconced in YA as written by and for women that she seems to be totally unaware of how much SF/Fantasy is YA literature written by and for men:
Where are the epic fantasy trilogies with male main characters? Harry Potter isn't YA, people, stop pretending. When, since Eragon, have boys gotten to save the world? Where is the Melissa Marr for boys? Where is--yeah--Twilight for boys? Where is the science fiction that boys loved in YA, and we just assumed, for some reason, they were fine with losing when they turned 14?
I mean, really?

There's plenty of YA (which you said yourself you don't really read) that is feminist. I can, like, write a list for you if you want.

I'm sorry I got sucked into saying what is or isn't feminist literature. I am curious whether there is any YA literature that is critique of the way girls interact with each other socially i.e. a YA "Cat's Eye" by Atwood.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:13 AM on June 11, 2011


So this is "young adult" fiction read by 9 year olds and 30 year olds. And they're called "young adults" but can't drink until they're well into adulthood… but can go die in Iraq.

My conclusion: America has really messed up ideas about childhood and adulthood.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:14 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


My point about the fortress of solitude is that traditionally male fantasy (literature) is just as much a trap as fantasy for women
By traditional, what do you mean? Are we saying that traditionally male fantasy is Tolkien-esque and fantasy for women is -- I am not sure what counts as traditional there.

The traditional male hero has to toe a narrow line of implicit social constraints to avoid sociopathy but at the same time is convinced he is acting according to his own will. The female actor (in books like Pierces) still has to process her actions with her friends.
In some of them, yes. But the trap for SFF written for young women is that it tells them that friends are important? That people need help? These don't seem like bad messages.

It's not that social concerns aren't real, it's that one of the problems with being the hero is that you do alienate everyone around you in a way that can't really be talked through.
Only some types of heroes. There heroes -- male and female -- who are sociopaths, and there are ones who are beloved (either because or in spite of their heroism). Talking things through doesn't magically fix everything, but then it doesn't in real life.

No, what I'm saying is that if you want to write genre fiction that's predicated on sexist paradigms your going to have a hard time with feminism no matter how heroic your heroine is. YA is hardly feminist literature.
YA is a very broad genre. But sure, if you want to write fiction that uses sexist tropes, you won't write feminist fiction. I'm not sure why you think books aimed at young women -- either fantasy or not -- all have to use sexist tropes. Graceling avoids them, the Newsflesh books do, Plain Kate does (fantasy, horror, fantasy). I don't love Justine Larbalestier's books, but they also avoid them. Un Lun Dun made fun of them.

A lot of books for YA are sexist and weird, but a lot of books in general are.
posted by jeather at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would totally love a list of feminist YA literature, PhoBWanKenobi. I can always use more recommendations.
posted by jeather at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Le Guin's 'Left Hand of Darkness' and 'Tehanu' (book four of the earthsea series) spring to mind, as does Slonczewski's 'A Door into Ocean.'
posted by kaibutsu at 9:22 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the trap for SFF written for young women is that it tells them that friends are important?

How important though? Can the female hero act so that in the end she has no friends? That's the trap.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2011


I'm sorry I got sucked into saying what is or isn't feminist literature. I am curious whether there is any YA literature that is critique of the way girls interact with each other socially i.e. a YA "Cat's Eye" by Atwood.

I feel like I'm often hawking it, but metafilter's own Kirsten Hubbard has a book called Like Mandarin which is about an intense female friendship with all its pitfalls. It's not quite as vicious as Atwood, but, hell, few things are. Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series has a bit of that, but I'm not sure it's really self-aware enough to be called feminist (and might end up instead falling into certain traps in the way they portray girls; I haven't quite decided).

One of the problems with figuring out which YA books are feminist is that it really does depend on what wave of feminism you prefer. I've heard claims that, for example, Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix books (which I haven't read) are both feminist and anti-feminist. From the sounds of it, she takes a kind of old school approach in making her heroine tough in ways that are traditionally seen as "male"--solitary, eschewing traditional female values and activities--but readers seem split as to whether that's sufficient to make the novels "feminist."

Generally, Bitch Magazine's 100 YA books for the feminist reader is a good place to start. But there's a strong feminist thrust in a lot of modern YA, even in some surprising places. Like LJ Smith novels about lovey dovey vampires. My favorites are probably Diana Peterfreund's Rampant and Ascendant. They're a lot like that last season of Buffy with all the potential slayers--it examines the implications of being a girl-warrior from all sides, including the impact on a warrior's social and romantic lives. Plus, killer unicorns.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


How important though? Can the female hero act so that in the end she has no friends? That's the trap.

Why should she have to? Is it a feminist value that a hero has to sacrifice everything for the sake of THE CAUSE, or is that simply an idea we get out of traditional patriarchal values of independence and solitary action? It seems to me that much feminist YA is rejecting that claim explicitly. I don't think that's a "trap" so much as a "different answer to the question of what it is to be a hero."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


ennui.bz -- Have you read E. Lockhart's "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks"? It's absolutely fascinating as a portrait of girl who is ambitious and sees through a lot of the social stuff of high school, who is very unabashedly feminist, whose actions cost her friendships -- she's a great heroine because she understands so much and is so great at overturning the social order of her school, and she also makes some spectacularly bad decisions. It is about the small-scale politics of YA but it rejects the idea that friendships are the most important thing, or at least plays with rejecting that.

Also, Foucault.
posted by Jeanne at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Ahhh, Tamora Pierce! I was a huge fan of the Alanna series as a kid.

One thing I really loved was that in the later books you get some course correction for Alanna, who has spent a lot of time going "Ugh, I don't want to be a GIRL, I want to wear trousers and be awesome and girly-girls are kind of lame!" - and then she winds up learning how to weave and stuff like that.

I think that actually had a profound influence on my own feminism, now that I think back on it. The idea that to be a feminist, to be a fully-rounded adult human, means understanding and appreciating all kinds of things, whether or not you yourself choose to do them.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I read Alanna when I was a preteen and I had a very similar response as thehmsbeagle. I liked how Alanna came to terms with her femininity and how Pierce treated sex and relationships. I was especially impressed that she gave examples of the flame-out love as well as the more abiding relationships.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Alanna is a Very Special Heroine, and though she has genuine obstacles that she overcomes with hard work and discipline, she's also playing with a stacked deck. She becomes a brilliant swordswoman, a gifted magician, befriends the prince of the realm and the king of the thieves, and is given gifts by the Gods, including a magical talking cat. "

The character Alanna herself acknowledges that at the end of the 3rd book of "Protector of the Small" when Kel gets knighted. :)

Although that may be why I come back to Kel more often than Alanna as an adult; Kel succeeds through hard work, perseverance, a family that supports her unusual and socially abnormal desires, kindness, emotional control, etc. Kel is not a hero because she rushes in without thinking; Kel is a hero precisely because she is thoughtful and conscientious. And Pierce doesn't back away from how sometimes? Being conscientious is a pain in the ass and it sucks. But Kel keeps it up anyway because it is the right thing to do ... and because she has learned to defer immediate gratification for longer-term goals, which is one definition of maturity.

I will even embarrass myself and admit there's a line from Protector of the Small that I have quoted to myself in my head when I have to do something tedious and unpleasant (typically get yelled at by a lot of people, one after another) because I am engaging in actions that are unpopular, but the right thing to do. Because listening to the complaints sensitively is also the right thing to do. And that quote helps keep me on course when it threatens to be a little overwhelming. You can only get yelled at for so many hours a day before it gets wearing. :)

(And Pierce is right -- conscientiousness is its own reward, and in the end, people do respect it. People often tell me afterwards that though they disagree with me on policy or action X, they really appreciate how open and responsive I was.)

I've read that Kel was the hardest heroine for her to write, but for me she's the most "real" one.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


friends have been recommending i check out her books for some time. this thread has me determined now! which series should i start with?
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2011


But the trap for SFF written for young women is that it tells them that friends are important?

How important though? Can the female hero act so that in the end she has no friends? That's the trap.


Making the tough, right decision doesn't always mean you'll have no friends, nor does being different. I think it's important to teach kids not to conform under peer pressure and to think for themselves, but that message doesn't have to come at the expense of them having no friends. They just have other non-conformist friends.

However, I actually have read two YA books that dealt with girls who ended up losing their friends due to their actions. In one, the popular girls really terrorize this young girl and make her life difficult (which could certainly happen in high school). Technically, though, I would argue the popular girls were not really her friends, though, to resort to those tactics.

In the other, a book with a supernatural twist, a girl raised by hippies in a commune goes to live with her grandmother and befriends the most unpopular girl in school but ends up becoming an outcast for it. I actually didn't like this book, because the point seemed to be that being different leads to endless suffering and outcast status. Sounds like it would be right up you alley, though. t's called Bliss.
posted by misha at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those reading Tamora Pierce for the first time as an adult, I would recommend reading Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen. They are set in her Tortall world but you don't need to have read any of her previous books to get into them. They also skew a bit older in the YA spectrum than a lot of her books.
posted by gudrun at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the list, phobwankenobi - much appreciated!
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2011


I loved loved loved Tamora Pierce when I was a kid, and I still go back and reread the series as pure comfort/happy reading. I really loved the way she handled relationships; for her characters, romantic relationships are always nice but not something to base a life around, and she also does a nice job of showing how two people can be fundamentally nice people but still have their relationship not work out.
posted by MadamM at 1:12 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Awesome post. Love Tamora Pierce. For those who believe that YA is structurally prohibitive of feminism, I recommend The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Just finished this book. It's all about "social relationships" but it's one of the most clever pieces of feminist fiction I've read in a very long time.
posted by artemisia at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just finishing a re-read of the first couple of Beka Cooper books, but the Protector of the Small quartet's probably always going to be my favorite. I just love Kel's attitude, even though I'm never likely to be able to emulate her as much as I'd like. Her superpower is basically that she's really great at getting through things that are no fun at all. "Eat your vegetables, they're good for you." That's Kel.
posted by asperity at 2:38 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there actually a paucity of YA that appeals to girls? If so it's the first I've heard of it - from what I've heard the people that aren;t reading are boys, and theres a lack of YA fiction that appeals to boys - so much so that there's a blog about it.
posted by Artw at 3:31 PM on June 11, 2011


I discovered Tamora Pierce as an adult, just a couple years ago. I read all of the Tortall books over the course of six months, and I was very sad when I ran out. My favorite is also Protector of the Small - precisely because Kel isn't the supernatural, mythic figure Alanna is. Trickster's Choice and Queen were also quite good.

Funny, it used to actually really bug me that they had access to magical birth control, because it wasn't realistic to a medieval setting... but reading this interview, it's clear that she included it because her audience has access to it, and she wants to show that it's ok

Really? Because it's more of a fantasy medieval setting, where magic is regularly used as a tool. Once I read about magical birth control charms in the Alanna books, it struck me as weird that it doesn't seem to be as common in other fantasy settings. If magic were real, I imagine that would be one of the first, oldest charms to be developed. The lack of birth control in Harry Potter seems kind of weird to me, now.
posted by heathkit at 4:21 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The lack of birth control in Harry Potter seems kind of weird to me, now.

Addressed in much fanfiction! Also, lube spells.
posted by asperity at 4:58 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think that Alanna was a super-hero who was naturally good at everything -- what makes her believable is that she had to work so very hard. She was naturally athletic and had a strong Gift, but small, terrible at sword-work (and only ever bettered herself through hard work) and bad at diplomacy/people relations, as well; also not terribly academic. I don't think I would have ever identified with her so strongly had she been perfect. But mostly what also made her seem so realistic were her fears and insecurities -- she was never sure of herself.

it was something that bothered me about Ally - things came too easily to her, and she was so self-confident - and nothing ever shook that (not even being captured by pirates and sold as a slave). Her self-confidence speaks to the better family situation that she grew up in than Alanna, but I was also just waiting for her to have a moment of crisis, some real character growth. but she didn't. It made her a far less interesting character.
posted by jb at 5:26 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


sorry - just to add: Alanna was never sure of herself; learning to believe in her own abilities is a major theme of the series, as is learning to open up and trust people. Both were very powerful parts of the stories.
posted by jb at 5:27 PM on June 11, 2011


I love Tamora Pierce SO MUCH!! Her characters are strong and independent, and they also cry and fall in love and lean on others. I still have the copies of the "Song of the Lioness" quartet I bought in elementary school--I almost can't believe they haven't fallen apart yet. I've enjoyed every book of hers, and am terribly impatient for the next Beka Cooper to be released.

I still love Alanna, though now I can see how some people might read her as a Sue. I would love to see a novel, or even a short story, about Neal's time as a squire with Alanna. I think the non-Sue elements of Alanna would be at the forefront, to say the least.
posted by epj at 7:29 PM on June 11, 2011


You have inspired me to read the rest of Tamora Pierce's work. I loved the Alanna books when I was pre-teen, and actually went back and re-read them a few years ago out of nostalgia, but didn't really explore the rest of her work.
posted by galadriel at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2011


I love the affection in this thread.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was in middle school, I was the Lady Chamberlain of the Tamora Pierce Fan Club, which existed electronically on AOL. As sarahsynonymous mentioned, she would be really lovely and active in answering questions and supporting the girls who posted there.

Flash forward to 2001: I was 18 and had been accepted into Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, which was my dream school. 9/11 happened on the first week of classes. Imagine how crazy it would be to be an 18 year old, away from home for the first time, and watching the towers fall from your dorm window.

Even though we had only kept in sporadic touch, Tamora Piece reached out to me. In that first week when everyone was reeling, she took me out for lunch at Tea and Sympathy and showed me one of her favorite bookstores in the Village. She made time for me, when she didn't have to, because she knew I was lost and hurting, even while she had to be lost and hurting too.

Tammy was a really stabilizing presence in a really uncertain time.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:45 AM on June 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


Nice interview.
Pierce has been a very important writer for our daughter, growing up.
posted by doctornemo at 9:27 AM on June 12, 2011


Thanks for the links about the girls vs. boys trends in YA fiction. I was always confused as to why my little sister loves YA fiction still at 16 while I breezed right on through and was reading Tolkien at 12; it's interesting to hear that it's a larger trend.

I read some Tamora Pierce when I was 13 or so and really loved her characters; I ended up finding electronic versions to reread a month ago. It's nice to have some feel-good light reading especially since my other childhood favourites are much more depressing/problematic (Animorphs, McCaffrey).
posted by buteo at 5:20 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the links about the girls vs. boys trends in YA fiction. I was always confused as to why my little sister loves YA fiction still at 16 while I breezed right on through and was reading Tolkien at 12; it's interesting to hear that it's a larger trend.

Well, I always want to take into consideration historical trends when people talk about the girl/boy split. "Teen fiction" has long been the refuge of girls--only the books catering to them looked more like Sweet Valley High, historically. What we're really seeing is a deepening and enrichment of that genre, which is attracting more readers (the ones who would have, like you, skipped from Animorphs and Pierce to McCaffrey, who was on adult SF shelves). I was a teenage girl who was nuts about McCaffrey, and who had pretty much given up on YA around age 14. Nowadays, I don't doubt at all that she would have been marketed directly at teens. It's a hot, highly selling genre, and publishers seem eager for excuses to market books that way. Modern YA is longer, often pitched older, and has greater depth.

That it's "for girls," mostly, isn't surprising because teen fiction was always largely for girls . . . it's just managing to hold onto them for longer, when they once long would have become readers of adult fiction. A lot of the books aimed at boys that have achieved any degree of notoriety are actually middle-grade titles, read by middle schoolers and younger. The assumption being, I guess, that boys would skip from children's books to adult. I'd be curious to see shifts from historic to modern literacy rates for teenage boys, to see if there really is a change in how much boys are reading, or if they're just making the same jumps they always were.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:36 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who read The Immortals series? I randomly happened across them and was obseeeeeessed (with the first three anyway, the last one was sort of weird). I read a couple of the Alanna books but didn't finish the series (or even start on Protector of the Small) - by the time I realized just how much Tamora Pierce was out there, I had pretty solidly moved out of the YA demographic. I do love YA lit though, and have the rest of Tamora Pierce's stuff on my epic list of things to get around to one of these days. Just wanted to make sure there was some love for Daine and Numair in here!
posted by naoko at 7:50 PM on June 12, 2011


Am I the only one who read The Immortals series?

No, definitely not! The Immortals is my fave series of Tamora Pierce's by quite a bit. I remember being in school and waiting soooooo loooooong for the fourth book to come out that I even bought it in paperback because the wait at the library was too long and I couldn't bribe my mom to put me higher on the request list. Unlike you, though, I loved loved loved the fourth book of that series and in fact that series as a whole is my favorite.

The Alanna series is a close second. After that, it drops off precipitously. Kel was, in my opinion, a disaster. At the very least, she's a departure. I remember the dedication of TP's second book about Aly--that's the one she dedicates to JK Rowling for showing the YA publishing world that young readers will read long books--and being so pissed (in college!) to find out she'd make it a duo instead of her normal quartet.

And then I don't really know anymore about her books because I stopped paying attention. I should start again, because the writing was never the issue (it's plenty sophisticated, especially in comparison to some of the more formulaic adult fiction writers). But I will say this: it's in part because of women like Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley that I insist on female protagonists in the books I read.

I realize I limit myself by doing so, and I will break that rule occasionally, but my god having female role models as a teen and fellow female protagonists as an adult is incredibly important to me and it's because of Tamora Pierce that I feel that way.
posted by librarylis at 9:03 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(It feels so weird to distance myself from the young adults now! I'm still only in my 20s!)

posted by tickingclock at 6:56 AM on June 11 [+] [!]


Eponysterical?
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:51 AM on June 13, 2011


Am I the only one who read The Immortals series?

I love Emperor Mage. I remember at the time I wanted it to be longer and more in depth. Still do, which is why I'm happy to read that she's working on a serious about Numair. The backstory felt rich and exciting, and I loved the way Daine's relationship with animals functions in the plot. "Keys!" has to be one of my favorite rescue lines ever.

I wasn't as big of a fan of Protector of the Small, but I did like the Trickster series very much.

Is anyone reading her new series set about 200 years before Alana in Tortall? I feel like I should get on that.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:04 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee, you've inspired me to re-read the Protector of the Small series. By the time they came out, I was so familiar with the Alanna series that it was tough not to see their echos in the Kel books, and they always fell a little short for me. Perhaps with some distance from the Alanna books, I'll appreciate Kel's story more.

cristinacristinacristina, there's five series within the Tortall univerise, and though each one stands alone they all have links with one another. The first four are in chronological order, so it makes sense to read them as such:

The Song of the Lioness (Alanna)
The Immortals (Daine)
Protector of the Small (Kel)
Tricksters (Aly)

There's also a series set several hundred years prior called Beka Cooper, currently in progress. Wikipedia has a full list of titles.

Pierce has also written a more MG series, the Circle books, but I've only read bits of them so I can't make any recommendations there.

Hope that helps!
posted by Georgina at 6:17 AM on June 13, 2011


Am I the only one who read The Immortals series?

No, but I only read them as an adult, because I'm old and when I first read Tamora Pierce in about 1986, she only had three novels published - the first three Alanna books. Lioness Rampant came out when I was 11 (1988). The first three Alanna books were my absolute favorites for years - I read them over and over again; the fourth always felt like it was very good, but different in tone and style - I think she had changed as a writer. But the subsequent series didn't start up until 1992 and I had long since migrated upstairs to the adult SF&F section. It took me a couple of years to realise that a) anyone other than me and one children's librarian had heard of Tamora Pierce, and that she had more books in that universe. I've enjoyed the rest of the series to one extent or another - but they will never have the power that Song of the Lioness did for me because I'm not a child - those books are rooted very deeply in my psyche. (I also re-read them about 10 times, whereas I have read the other series only about twice - I can remember whole scenes from Alanna.)

Funny enough - I thought I was the only Tamora Pierce fan for years, only to now - at 33 - be meeting them all over the place, and my aunts have since become big fans and have read all the books in their 40s and 50s.

And to connect back to the other YA thread open - my mom freaked out a bit regarding the sex in In the Hand of the Goddess (my favorite for years, probably because of the adolescence and romance) because I was reading it when I was 9 or 10 - but that's when I needed to read it. My first thought on getting my period for the first time was "What did Alanna do?" That said, the Alanna books were never categorised as YA at my local library - there was no YA section, so they were in the children's section in the basement, near Katherine Patterson (the Master Puppetteer, Of Nightengales that Weep - I have read Bridge to Terebithia, but her historicals are even better) - Pierce was the reason why I always started looking for new books around the "P" section of the kid's hardcovers in the library - I would check which of the three Pierce books were in, and also what else was there.
posted by jb at 10:13 AM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the Immortals too. :) I only sort-of loved Aly, partly because there was suddenly all this magic that would have made EVERYONE'S LIVES WAY EASIER in earlier series. Grrrr. But the relationship with Nawat almost made up for that.

I have been putting off the Beka Cooper series until all three are out so I can devour them in one big chomp. But I now think that my recovering-from-birth reading at the hospital will be a Tortall-fest, after getting all nostalgic from this thread. :D
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:06 PM on June 13, 2011


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