[Book Review] The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce.

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[…] the Song of the Lioness quartet is the adventurous story of one girl’s journey to overcome the obstacles facing her, become a valiant knight, and save Tortall from conquest. Alanna douses her female identity to begin her training in Alanna: The First Adventure, and when she gains squire status in In the Hand of the Goddess, her growing abilities make her a few friends — and many enemies. Books 3 and 4 complete Alanna’s adventure and secure her legend, with the new knight errant taking on desert tribesmen in The Woman Who Rides like a Man and seeking out the powerful Dominion Jewel in Lioness Rampant.

Goodreads

I’ll put it out there right now: the Song of the Lioness quartet is the best series I’ve read all year.

Granted, it’s only a fortnight into 2016 and that proclamation doesn’t actually mean much but the series is still really good. Really good, that is, with some caveats.

The quarter is obviously written for younger readers: the story is relatively simple (if quite eventful, spread out over four books), with few truly surprising twists and turns. In fact, Pierce seems to take great pains to spell out everything for the reader, from what is possibly going to happen next to who the villains and heroes are. She doesn’t so much as hint at who the baddies are as straight out tell the reader.

Speaking of bad guys, the characters are quite one-dimensional. The heroes are perfect and noble while the bad nuts are stereotypically diabolically. The sheer fact that the characters can be so neatly categorised (other than Robin Hood King of the Thieves George who, despite his vocation, is such an unfailing paragon of perfection that it’s quite obvious which half of the pie he falls in) serves as a reminder of who the audience of these books is. There is minor character development across the series (most notably in the titular character) but more often than not, the characters so strongly epitomise their tropes that most deviations in behaviour end up feeling contrived and out-of-character rather than showing nuanced dimensions.

Despite that, I’d still recommend the series heartily. Why? The writing.

The Song of a Lioness quartet is a masterclass in how to tell a story. As I mentioned, the plot is quite simple but she tells it in such an effortlessly engaging way that I was still kept to the edge of my sofa. She writes simply, hooking the reader in using elegant, rather than over-flourished, language and great pacing (although I feel like she was trying to cram too much plot into too short a space at times).

As a testament to her abilities, I finished the entire quarter within a week, which is an almost miraculous clip for me (short as her books are) considering how slow I read and how my reading times for that week were confined entirely to the hour before bed.

Plus, I love that despite (or because of) the younger demographic the series targets, Pierce doesn’t pull the punches when it comes to themes and real-world ideas, filling the book with notions about feminism, choice-making, and the meaninglessness of violence and warfare, all of which are highly educational and still (if not even more) relevant to our current social climate. She also doesn’t sugarcoat the endings, which gives the books a more realistic slant.

Her world building, too, is fantastic, with a believable, immersive environment for the reader to get lost in (quite literally, especially at the start, thanks to the many many names to learn).

Even her characters, while one-dimensional, are written in such an endearing way that one can’t help but feel attached to them. Every time I finish a reading session that features her confidant/cat Faithful, for example, I would end up spending some time playing with my own (significantly less verbose and unfortunately less affectionate) feline.

The biggest mark of a book series’ excellence, though, is how it makes me feel straight after. With most books, even good ones, I usually just feel satisfied that I have finished the tome and am raring to move on to the next title. With this quartet, however, I actually felt a pang of sadness that the adventure was over and wanted badly to continue staying with Alanna (which, thankfully, I can with the next quartet set in the same world).

While this quartet definitely isn’t without its flaws and is a much simpler read meant for younger readers, it is still a series I would totally recommend to fantasy lovers of any age and is a definite contender, for now, to be in my 2016 wrap-up post.

Rating: buy/borrow/bin

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