I try to read a novel or two by the BayCon writer guest of honor each year, even those known to me. I thought I had read Alanna, but the story in my memory and the story of the book don’t quite match, so this was a happy circumstance.
Alanna starts out precocious and spoiled in a way that could easily have become rotten. I had difficulty connecting with her at first because she does not care about how the consequences would fall on others much more heavily. I’m not alone in seeing her prideful decisiveness as a flaw, though. Maude, the local wise woman, counsels her in much the same even as Alanna pushes her to go beyond her comfort with magic.
What started as an annoyance is critical to the book.
This is an excellent character story with growth and maturity building out of circumstances. Alanna comes across as spoiled in the beginning because she has been. At the same time, we learn she’s also been taught to be self-sufficient and respect the labors of all classes despite being born noble.
Her stubborn nature makes it hard for her to accept her place, but it also gives her the strength and determination to change her future. Even better, it is tempered by an awareness of the people around her that grows with her maturity. This leads to unusual friends in unusual places at all ranks of society. What stands out, though, is her treatment of them as individuals, seeing beyond class and gender restrictions to the person beneath.
The book is an adventure, despite the focus on character growth, with real costs and villains where you least expect them…which isn’t quite true. The main villain is well seeded, as are many other plot twists. I often put the pieces together before they became obvious, especially with Alanna being willfully blind, but my awareness did not lessen my enjoyment. How Alanna ignores her instincts when her friends don’t share them turns out to be a greater character flaw than her stubbornness.
The book takes quite a few odd twists and turns while raising real questions to ponder. I appreciated when the events showed how there are many ways to approach problems and with equal success. The writing itself is a bit older in style, but this story shows how a so-called slippery point of view can be done successfully. I never lost track of who controlled the narrative despite it moving around a lot in the beginning, and then again, once George appears.
I did not mention many characters by name, but that’s because the cast became huge. This reads like a realistic view of a knight’s training, with concerns about homework, chores, and bullies, but it’s so much more than a boarding school tale. Loyalty and the bonds between those brought through training together are a big part of the story. Alanna’s gender drives her and yet offers few barriers beyond the need for her secrecy and how she deals with physical changes. I liked this approach as historically many women passed as men in the military.
The story is strong in both the characters and the tale it tells. There’s trouble on personal and greater levels, but everything is offered in a personal way so we get the ground floor view. Alanna never supports a value by station perspective, and the story reveals the costs of becoming separate from the populace in many small ways.
Ultimately, I’m delighted to have picked this story, whether I’ve read it before long ago or not.