wFeb 26, 2009

Protector of the Small

I read Song of the Lioness in fragments spread out over a few months, and I'd have to read it again for style, but I think that Protector of the Small was better written. I definitely liked Kel better as a protagonist.

I like how hard Pierce makes Kel work. I feel like I'm there for every blow, every muscle strain, of her training to become a knight. I remember this being true in the Song of the Lioness Quartet, too. I like that Kel had to deal with bullying/hazing. She didn't tattle, but got stronger and made sure it didn't happen to others. I have so much respect for her strength and personal code of honor. I think these will be comfort books for me in the future!

I like how Kel ages throughout the four books, both physically and emotionally. Everyone around her changes, too, even the way characters view each other and the world. Pierce is really good with her viewpoint characters - while some characters appear in many of her books, they are viewed differently by the people telling the story. I like her consistency, and the obvious thought she gives to viewpoint and the backgrounds people are coming from.

I like that it seems Pierce realized how "easy" Alanna had it in Song of the Lioness - and so Kel has no magic. I found this quartet less annoying than SotL. Kel doesn't have magical powers, a magical pendant, a magic Goddess-voiced cat, a magic horse, or whatever else. The Prince of Tortall is not her best friend. I like that Kel has to do without the Gift, that some things don't come naturally to her. As much as Alanna's life sucked sometimes, I feel like Knighthood/etc. came a bit too easily/naturally for the protagonist, like it was ordained. I found it a lot easier to relate to Keladry.

I found the death of Joren of Stone Mountain in the Chamber of Ordeal to be a little WTF. I mean, it was angsty and sort of neat, but it seemed almost too simple of a way for her nemesis to be taken care of. While Alanna's Uber Destiny with Duke Roger made me roll my eyes a little bit, this interaction was a little bit too far at the other end of the spectrum for me.

The ending of the series was a bit of a let-down for me. Kel killed both of the Evil Dudes, just as expected, and none of her friends died. I know they're chidrens' books, but come on...a main character died in Animorphs, and I think those books are a little less involved than Pierce's Tortall books, although they're probably equally violent. It was a bit too cut-and-dry for me.

I liked the middle of Lady Knight much better. I really did not expect Haven to get razed like that. Although, finding out that not everybody was killed was sort of sucky. I really liked the emotional impact of Kel realizing they had been hit hard, and I think it almost would have been cooler if everyone in Haven had died, and Kel had to live with it.

Like that Kel ends up with nobody. While I appreciate Pierce's discussion of bodies and birth control, I also think it's nice that Kel doesn't have sex, and even moreso that it's Cleon, the dude, who wants to wait until marriage. Kel is miffed, but respects the decision. It seems like whenever feminist YA authors present women with a choice about sex, the girls always end up having it, so it was refreshing to see Kel having frank conversations with her mother (in which her mother said, be on birth control, and then decide) that are mature, and then having to wait anyway.

I also really like that she didn't end up engaged at the end, like Alanna did. Hello, being 18 years old!

So, I say all of these good things with a grain of salt. What makes Kel somewhat special in comparison to her peers is that her father was the Tortallan diplomat to the Yamani Islands for 6 years of her childhood. Thus, Kel is not only adept at interacting with people hailing from the Yamani culture, but is also trained in Yamani fighting styles and weapons. After making it through Tortall's training for knighthood, she uses her weapon of choice: a glaive.

It's extremely clear that the Yamani Islands are meant to be Japan. Women wear kimonos secured by obis. Kel refers to her weapon with the "Yamani" (see: actually Japanese) word naginata. In the text, Yamani people bow by placing their palms flat on their thighs and bending forward. Honor is taken very seriously by warriors, and death is viewed as preferaable to surrender or capture.

But in the first two books especially, Pierce makes a narrative choice that I find pretty weird. Whenever Kel hides her emotions, she is described as acting in a Yamani manner. Not just once, but almost ad nauseum. When she smiles but is actually upset, it is a "Yamani smile." When she struggles to keep her countenance free of emotion, she is keeping it "Yamani-blank." When she defers to cultural manners as a way to interact with others, her face becomes "a Yamani mask of politeness."

It might be true that Japanese culture looks less favorably on a selfish outpouring of emotions than, say, U.S. American culture, but it just smacked of painting too broadly with one brush for my tastes.

Also, some of the names were a little improbable, such as "Chisakami" and "Shinkokami," and sort of sounded like an anime fangirl writing some AU fanfiction, making up names.

Of course, some aspects of it were nicely written, and helped bring the Quartet as a whole into focus.. Women in the Yamani Islands are given much more weapons training than women in Tortall (equivalent of France/England) because men are often away when towns/etc. get attacked by pirates. As a child, Kel is 5 years old and with her mother in a temple when pirates attack. And her mother is bad-ass with a glaive, cutting people down and saving some Yamani relics. Thus, it's fairly natural to both Kel and her family that she would want to train to become a knight.

I really want to read Terrier.....I want to see things from a lower-class character. But I've already got Trickster's Choice checked out, and I own the first two of the Immortals Quartet (yeah, I skipped it and went right for Keladry's quartet instead). I'm thinking that I will love Terrier a lot.

What are Melting Stones and Will of the Empress about?

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scribbled mystickeeper at 8:38 AM

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