In this series of posts, I’m rereading and reviewing the numerous books set in the world of Tortall written by Tamora Pierce. In this post I’ll be reviewing the second book in the Protector of the Small series, Page.
I cried a few times during this book.
I can’t help it; something about Kel’s story gets to me. Perhaps it’s how much she has to overcome, or how I relate to her struggle to control her emotions, since they only complicate things. I also find Kel inspirational; Kel has to work much harder than others to become good, rather than simply being pre-gifted in certain skills, and she has so much willpower and drive to do unpleasant things in order to reach her goals. Her drive to wake up before dawn, work out more than others, take weights in silence, and to run up every hill shows how much power she has over herself, which I think is a hallmark of the character. It’s something I’m not even remotely capable of doing, and I’m both jealous and admiring of her strength of character.
Page is a great book. As opposed to First Test, it covers a series of struggles, all the small and big things Kel fights with during the first half of her training to become a knight. She’s still barely twelve at the start of the novel, but she becomes fourteen by the end of it, so it also goes into her struggle with becoming a woman. I’ve always enjoyed on Tamora Pierce’s insistence on covering the fact that her heroines get their periods; it’s not just realism, but realism girls aren’t always exposed to. Having a heroine who got her period and went through it before I did was instrumental in my learning to not freak out about it when it happened to me. Pierce is very good at making big, fantastical struggles personal, and this is among the many examples I’ve found.
This book introduces some of Kel’s best companions: Jump, the scrappy, personable dog, and Lalasa, her timid maid. While Jump is more practical and personable, Lalasa is my favorite, and one of my favorite characters in Pierce-dom. Lalasa is a pretty, common-born girl, and she suffered mightily throughout her life–mostly thanks to men. Serving under Kel is Lalasa’s first chance to escape a cycle of abuse and drudgery that has been her lot in life since she was born, and at first she expects the same from Kel as she expects from any noble. However, Kel isn’t in the habit of treating her servants poorly simply because it’s expected; Kel sees Lalasa as someone she cares for, rather than someone who cares for her. Kel’s protectiveness of Lalasa extends from physically defending her to teaching Lalasa self-defense herself, as well as empowering Lalasa beyond what other nobles do for their servants. Lalasa starts taking dress commissions, and although taking most of a servant’s profits from a side job is expected of Kel, she refuses, and when Lalasa is upset, will only take part of the profits to put them aside in savings for Lalasa. Their relationship progresses from somewhat confrontational (Kel doesn’t understand how she can be a shrinking violet) to friendship, as Kel proves her mettle to Lalasa and Lalasa learns to trust for the first time in her life. Their interactions are beautiful and seeing Lalasa’s personality bloom over the course of Page is so, so lovely.
We also see the spark of change within Page. While this change will be more pronounced in later books, this book has the event that really sets things off for this quartet. Over the summer, Keladry finds herself thrust into leadership, fighting for her life and those of the people she cares for. We see Lord Wyldon, and the page training, change in response to this. Before, Lord Wyldon expected less than minimum from Kel; forced to see her in a new light, he’s also forced to see how page training has put many of the future knights in the realm at a disadvantage. They are more than future lords; they are the elite fighting force of their nation, and in a time of immortals and possible invaders, it’s necessary to teach them new skills for survival. More is expected of the pages, and of Keladry, because the fact is that for the elite few, more is within reach. We start to see Keladry move beyond a simple struggle with being on par to struggling to outdo her limits, to perfect her talents and become greater than she was before. Alanna, and Daine, both had this theme in their quartets, but it was framed within their destiny as epic figures. Kel is not destined for anything; she is simply capable of a great many things, and her new training allows her to start to find her possibilities.
This novel also confronts the many aspects of fear. In First Test we were introduced to Kel’s phobia of heights, which comes to a head here. Her fear is a great equalifier; while Kel is capable of pushing through many obstacles through sheer stubbornness, we all have hurdles we cannot overcome of our own accord. Especially when it comes to phobia, we sometimes lose control of ourselves, and it can be as awful and frustrating as the source of the fear. I’ve had public meltdowns over my phobia, insects, before, so I really relate to the fact that Kel’s fear of heights can be worked on, mitigated some, but sometimes? She simply can’t make herself anything but afraid. It takes love and loyalty to others to overcome her fears, because Kel is Kel, and she can’t turn her back on those who rely on her. I don’t know if I’d be able to save a loved one if they were menaced by a giant ant, but it’s nice to see phobia portrayed as both beyond control and conquerable when it really, actually counts. Aside from heights, we see Kel struggle admirably with her more subtle fears; those of failing in her mission, either through her own inability or through the sexism of others. Kel seeks to work hard and earn her way to knighthood, but she knows the world isn’t fair. She could be robbed of her dreams, simply because someone else thinks she shouldn’t have them.
Kel is a wonderful, complex heroine. A down-to-earth woman with the heart of a grand noble, Kel struggles to enact her absolute moral code in a world that is much more gray. Kel’s an old-fashioned knight, true in her beliefs and strong in the arm, but her unconventional womanhood and lack of magic are giant stumbling blocks in a Tortall that’s far from perfect. Kel’s struggle, and the dignity of her struggle, make for fascinating reading, as do the ripple effects of Kel’s simple way of throwing every idea of society on its head. Kel is a hero unlike many that we find in fantasy–the closest character I’ve ever read to Kel is Sam Vimes, and he started out as a deconstruction of heroic main characters in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! Tamora Pierce always gives us wonderful heroines, but Kel is, to me at least, truly special, in not being special.
I love Keladry of Mindelan, and I hope you’ll stick along with me, and her story, to Squire, because things are about to get crazy.
Got something to say? Say it in the comments or on Twitter.