Leading up to a new Tortall book coming out, I’m reading all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books and Tortall ephemera. In this post I’ll be reviewing the short stories “Elder Brother” and “The Hidden Girl.”
At the end of Wolf Speaker, Numair turns a man into a tree with a word of power. He mentions in that book that, as a result, somewhere else in the world a tree has become a man. “Elder Brother” is the story of that tree.
Reading Wolf Speaker, you don’t necessarily expect the story of the tree-man to be elaborated upon, but it’s an intriguing one, so I was pleasantly surprised when I first came across this story. In this book, Qiom is a tree newly made into a man, and as you might guess, he doesn’t really like it. After all, being a tree involves a lot fewer of the worries that a human has. This story really shines in the way it portrays the gap in understanding between Qiom and what it means to be human. To him, clothes are “cloth leaves,” and he doesn’t understand why he needs them. Numair appears to him in his dreams, attempting to help the tree-man he created as much as possible, but Qiom regularly gets in trouble upon waking. When he meets Fadal, a young boy who’s just as lost as he is but a lot more human, they strike a bargain to work together while Fadal teaches Qiom how to be human. The story that unfolds isn’t anything particularly revolutionary in Pierce’s writing, but the tree’s perspective is, and it really helps this story to shine.
Like “Student of Ostriches,” the short story I previously reviewed, Tamora Pierce has taken this opportunity to explore the lands outside of her books; in this case Jindazhen, a land west of the Yamani and Copper Isles. Jindazhen has notes of Islam and of Chinese culture, and its take on Islam is…kind of simplistic. It mostly covers the effects of how a society that represses women can have ill effects for men and women; not an unworthy topic, just one that feels overworked in 2017. This story was originally published in November 2001, as well, so this sort of thing was very much within the flow of American thinking at the time.
However, “Hidden Girl,” which was originally published in 2006 in Dreams and Visions: Fourteen Flights of Fantasy, blows the doors of the hinges of “Elder Brother.” It picks up right where “Elder Brother” ends, with Teky, a girl witnessing the aftermath of Qiom and Fadal. In this story we learn what neither Fadal nor Qiom had the chance to learn–that there is strength in the veil, and that their religion is more complex than Fadal perceived it to be. Teky, a student of a secret Book that upends the natural order taught in village temples, knows her own strength behind the veil, but has to learn how to use that strength in order to help others.
This is my first time reading this story, and frankly, I loved it. I love the way it responds to “Elder Brother,” how it serves to complicate the story. This story makes “Elder Brother” better with its association, complicating the world it takes place in. One of Tamora Pierce’s greatest strengths comes with reading much of her work, and understanding that she is trying to talk about the many, many, many different ways to be a woman. Teky is really unique in Tamora Pierce’s canon, bright, funny, and full of ingenuity. She’s a great balancing point to characters like Alanna, who had to reject femininity in order to achieve their goals. Teky, instead, finds her and her womanhood are as one, and seeks to ennoble other women. She finds power in her femininity, and it’s really, really excellent.
If you haven’t read these stories, I really urge you to check them out! They’re pretty excellent. If you have read them and want to discuss them, head to the comments section or my Twitter.