In this series I’m rereading Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. This post is about the fourth book in the Protector of the Small quartet, Lady Knight.
This is my favorite Tamora Pierce book, hands-down.
This book has everything: complex plot and ideas, excitement, really cool characters, a world that feels breathtakingly real, equally real stakes, and as the centerpiece, the delightful Keladry of Mindelan. It’s a thick book–a sign of thicker books to come–and much more involved than we’ve seen Tamora Pierce give us with previous books. Politics, war, leadership, and the little things involved in all of the above lend the book a complexity and depth we haven’t seen before. Like Alanna and Daine, Kel’s fourth book sees her making her first steps as an adult, but hers come with huge burdens. Which seems silly, considering Alanna became a legend and Daine went toe to toe with gods; Kel’s working at a measurably smaller scale. However, her scale involves responsibility, duty to hundreds, and that makes all the difference.
It’s interesting to see the way Kel chafes at her duty, here. While one of Kel’s strongest features has been to always know what was right, even if she couldn’t achieve it, she balks when she’s given command of a refugee camp by her former training master Lord Wyldon. Newly knighted, Kel sees her place as among other knights, fighting on the front lines of the war. She’s both terrified of the burden of command and also burdened by it, seeing her assignment as relatively soft compared to others. Kel doesn’t want to see what Lord Wyldon sees, which is that Kel is one of few nobles who will do right by the refugees. In fact, the only reason the refugees are even near the front lines is because southern nobles refuse to house them, which highlights how Kel’s respect for commoners is really incredibly rare. Kel has also been tasked with her mission–find Blayce the Gallan, which seems counter to caring for five hundred civilians.
But of course, Kel is perfect for the job. Not only because she cares for every person, but because her cool head and hard work are the sort of qualities that even the loudest detractors can learn to respect. Kel, whose name has been slandered since she became a page, understands the value of earning respect rather than demanding it, since she has always had to earn it. Even as reluctant as she is, Kel is a canny and instantly capable commander.
I don’t really think I have the proper words to express how much I love this book. At the base level, it’s excellently constructed. We have a lot of plot, motivation, and interesting conflict built in, and it moves very easily from chapter to chapter. At the next layer, there’s the three books leading up to this, the way our history with Kel places so much more into her struggle, into the person she has become. This book is also dark, contending with a child-killer and unearthly machines, with the realities of using the bathroom and with grieving widows. Like many of Tamora Pierce’s works, the emotion and tone is very subtly weaved into the story, shown more than told. So much of this book is good that, in order to go over how good it is, it’s tempting to just offer the book and say, “you just read it and see.”
And you’ll see.
Let’s talk about this book in the comments or on Twitter.