Leading up to the publication of Tamora Pierce’s 20th Tortall book, I am rereading all of her other works in the Tortall universe. In this edition of Revisiting Corus, I’m going over the second book in the Song of the Lioness quartet, In The Hand of the Goddess.
In the Hand of the Goddess is the major turning point of the Song of the Lioness quartet, where Alanna grows up, into a knight, and more importantly, into herself. She moves past her childish insecurities and becomes what she’s always been meant to be–with some significant sacrifice along the way.
I wonder how the process of creating this quartet went, because in many ways this and The First Adventure feel like a complete story; someone could stop at this point and feel they had read a complete, satisfying story. Much of the tension of The First Adventure–Alanna’s growing maturity, her journey to knighthood, keeping her secret, and her tension with Duke Roger comes to a head in this book. Her romantic story remains open-ended, but if I didn’t know better, I’d be overall satisfied with where it leaves off for Alanna in that respect, because Pierce has already woven in some ideas that will be better paid off in Alanna’s romantic life in the later two books.
After reading the first book, there’s things you’re looking forward to the rest of the quartet paying off–and they’re all paid off here. Tamora Pierce tends to do this sort of thing. Rather than end her stories with a character’s successful ascension to adulthood and triumph over their childhood woes, a la Harry Potter, Pierce always goes a step further, choosing to incorporate the early part of adulthood into her overall arc. She sees growth into oneself as something that doesn’t just end at eighteen. In this series, it’s because Alanna has yet to become an epic legend; in other series, this will be because of that, and because, well, we don’t just arrive at our final forms at age eighteen. We still have someone else to grow into, and Pierce is very invested in following that throughline for her characters.
On that theme of growing up, Pierce also has a knack for showing maturity, rather than telling it. For example, in The First Adventure, a lot of Alanna’s interpersonal relationships were influenced by the fact that her absent father had led her with a bad idea of friendship and love. In scenes where we follow her friends and mentors in that book, they often cite her absent father as one of many reasons why she deserves to be treated well. In this book, Alanna’s father has died a month before the book, and Alanna is dictating the care and keeping of her family’s fief, Trebond, from afar. Thom, Alanna’s older brother, is the Lord of the land, yet Alanna is the one caring for it. Over the course of the book we read about occasional dispatches from Trebond, of Alanna growing into her role as steward of a group of people. We don’t need to be told that this contributes to Alanna’s growing maturity and responsibility; it simply does, and it works in the background as we witness Alanna become more confident and grown-up with each chapter. Tamora Pierce feels confident enough in the way she writes Alanna to let the way Alanna acts, the way she trains, and the way she cares for others speak for itself. When other characters state their confidence that Alanna is worth their esteem, that she will become a great knight, we aren’t surprised, because she’s earned the right in our eyes well before Alanna herself feels she has.
She also chooses to dabble more in exploring Alanna’s femininity. Previously, Alanna has vehemently denied the overall inconvenience of her sex, and the idea that she’ll have to deal with it one day. This book, however, has Alanna coming to terms with her own feminine self. It helps that The Great Mother, the primary female goddess of Tortall’s mythology, starts more openly interfering in Alanna’s life; Alanna can hardly stand totally disconnected from her womanhood when The Great Mother is watching over her. Alanna’s secret has also gotten out to Jonathan, the knight to her squire and her best friend, and their tension as growing adults in a unique situation is examined. Alanna has to deal with the looming knighthood–after which she will reveal she’s a woman, making understanding her body and how she wants to be perceived as a woman more relevant. Alanna, unlike many of us, has a chance to practice womanhood in secret before she’s thrust into her role as a woman, which kind of seems ideal, honestly. (If I’d had the chance to turn eighteen before anyone expected me to act pretty or graceful, I would have taken it.)
There are some moments that feel…weird, to a modern reader. Alanna’s romances have weird vibes; specifically, the book describes George’s attempted wooing as “he stalked her.” He didn’t, but neither he nor Jonathan is in the habit of asking for permission before they kiss her. And the Bazhir, in this and the previous book, have been described exactly enough to put us on “is this racist?” alert. I want to acknowledge both of these exist; however, they’re much more relevant in the next book, The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, so I’ll be more directly tackling them in that post.
In the Hand of the Goddess is an excellent book, one that with deft hands shows us how Alanna has molded herself into a great knight. It ends on a high note, feeling as if it’s complete, but Alanna has so many further heights to rise to–and I’m excited to rise with her. Until next week!
Talk to the author about the nitty-gritty of this book on Twitter @yipp33kiyay, or in the comments section. Author promises she will not bite; she’s too busy prepping for Irma.