Friday, April 27, 2012

The Epic Reading List Mark Two Updated: Lady Knight

List Mark Two Updated: 4/27

1. Mockingjay -Suzanne Collins

2. First Test -Tamora Pierce
3. Darkness Falls -Cate Tiernan
4. Page -Tamora Pierce

5. Where Things Come Back -John Corey Whaley
6. Squire -Tamora Pierce
7. Beautiful Darkness -Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
8. Lady Knight -Tamora Pierce
9. Cinder -Marissa Meyer
10. Trickster's Choice -Tamora Pierce
11. The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight - Jennifer E. Smith
12. Trickster's Queen -Tamora Pierce
13. Halfway to the Grave -Jeanine Frost
14. Tortall and Other Lands -Tamora Pierce
15. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer -Michelle Hodkin

Okay, I may have stalled just a bit. A bit. Lady Knight is the last book in Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series, which happens to be my favorite. I wasn't quite ready to let Kel go. I'm still not. Not really.

For some reason, in my younger days neither Squire nor Lady Knight made as much of an impact on me as First Test or Page. Perhaps it was the age connection, who knows. This time, just like with the Alanna books, it was far easier to read them as a whole story. Squire and Lady Knight left a massive impact this time around.

Kel is still the main character I want to be or, at last, be like. She's smart and brave and wonderful. (After my post today about being Dauntless I was thinking which faction she'd belong in and it's a really tough call between Dauntless and Abnegation. She's totally Divergent.) She faces adversity with a calm strength that I envy. But, really, if I could take the personality traits of any character is would probably be her.

I think it is really easy to get caught up in romantic relationships while reading and miss the subtle strength of others. Doing that in Tamora Pierce books is a great disservice to both the reader and Pierce's talent. With Alanna and Daine the romantic relationship become a big part of what's going on, more so for Alanna. For Kel they are background. She doesn't need them. But it's easy to relate to her brief mental musings about them at times as she worries about being fickle (three crushes in, what, 9-10 years is not bad). More than just Kel they're background for everyone and handled very casually. In a couple of sentences we find out that both Raoul and Neal and betrothed, to Buri and Yuki respectively. Romance not being the focus allows for better attention of more important dynamics.

But Tamora Pierce's strength almost always lies in her friendships. There are some absolutely brilliant moments in Lady Knight. Neal, for all of his drawling cynicism and practicality, follows Kel to what they all assume is a traitor's death and never once backs down or tries to get her to leave. They know each other and, while they do bicker, never when it really matters. There is a bit more fleshing out of the Wyldon and Kel dynamic. He assigns her to command the refugee camp knowing that she will hate it but that she will do the best job that could be done. There's a tender moment between the two upon her return from Scanra where he kisses her forehead that is reminiscent of their conversation in Squire. It's a nice moment for the two in a father/daughter sort of way.

That moment is, however, totally overshadowed by, what I was a bit startled to find was, a favorite. After Kel runs off, Raoul (I know, I know. Enough Raoul) confronts Wyldon. It's absolutely brilliant. Wyldon knows he screwed up and Raoul is calling him on it. Everyone who knows Kel knows that she'd never abandon the refugees she'd been put in charge of but they were all distracted. The whole scene is wonderful but for some reason the line:

"If she dies, Mithros forgive you. I never will."

hit me as just so right. I think its strength lies in it not being a line about a romantic relationship. As much as Wyldon says that Raoul would have forbidden Kel from going too and Raoul says he would have chained her up on her horse to bring her back, I don't think he would have. Wyldon and Kel have similar strength to them but Kel and Raoul have an understanding about one another. She got her physical training from the court but I really feel like Raoul modeled Kel into the kind of knight that she is. Their relationship might be tied with Kel and Neal for favorite nonromantic.

Okay, I'll admit my Kel Neal shipping faded after the first two. They are perfect friends for one another and that's okay. I also see where she and Dom could be awesome but I don't feel like I need to mentally force them on each other. She's good on her own.

I've always loved how much the characters in The Protector of the Small take care of each other. This series becomes so much about Kel and everyone that it's impossible to ignore. When Alanna goes off for her big quest, to get the Dominion jewel, she goes alone and stays alone until the work is done. Kel goes off alone but doesn't make it far before half of Tortall joins her. I love that all of Dom's squad volunteers. That is not to say that she doesn't have her moment of solitary fighting against Stenum and Blayce but she couldn't do what she does without everyone with her.

I do recall being just as startled as Kel by how easy it was to kill Blayce. When I was young that was disappointing. It wasn't this time. Blayce balances Kel out. Just as one female knight can change so many minds and save so many people, one "nothing man" can be responsible for the turning of a war and deaths of hundreds of children. He's appalling, well and truly. He's the kind of villain who you're disgusted by. There's no reason why it has to be kids that he kills it just is. He feeds and clothes them first creepily enough. He's weak and not particularly smart but his one skill is killer.

I feel like this series is where Pierce really starts getting into things. We see Numair and Daine and their relationship from the outside (it's interesting but maybe that's because we didn't really get to see them as an actual couple much). With as much time as we spent with Numair in The Immortals we didn't know much about his power, other than it is pretty badass. But in Lady Knight Duke Baird (Neal's father) scolds Neal for talking ill of Numair and says:

"Numair told me once he has to blow on a candle flame to put it out....If he uses his Gift, the candle explodes. We have shaped our power to cut single veins if we must. Numair has to do big projects or nothing."

It's an interesting little tidbit that we didn't know before. It easily could have been put in to The Immortals but it wasn't. Much like any details about the Own were saved for Squire. The actual numbers about squad sizes and things of that nature were omitted in the Alanna books. It seems like Pierce enjoyed putting these details in and they're great for it. And, huzzah, Lady Knight is a wondrous 409 pages.

I do actually have two critical comments. But to be honest they took me some time to come up with.

My first complaint is Cleon's total brush off. Their relationship came to a natural end and that's fine. Kel's worry about hurting him because her feelings had faded was perfect. But they had that one brief conversation and that was it. He wasn't really mentioned again. Having most of Kel's other notable friends (Roald being excused since he would never have actually been able to get away) there in the end but not him stung a little. It sort of discounted any friendship they had. I know he had problems at home but it seemed like an easy excuse to not have to write tension between them. Frankly, Kel had more than enough to deal with but it still irks.

That's really the only bad thing I have to say and, honestly, it took me a minute to even remember that. It feels like it happened books and books ago.

The other is that there are moments when Pierce reminds us of details we don't need to be reminded of. Sometimes they're from other books, and perhaps those would have been less frustrating if I hadn't read them semi-recently. Other times they're just details we read about 100 pages. We know that person did that, we read it. Pierce needs to trust the readers a little more. But somehow I didn't enjoy the book any less. I might have sighed over a repetition at one point but the skill with which everything else is handled over shadows it.

Lady Knight is, obviously, rated: Beyond Epic.

Sorry for the gush-fest of a post but I was a little awed by how much I still love that book and this series. My complete and total love for Raoul startled me a little too. I'm not complaining though.

Next I read Marissa Meyer's Cinder. I've heard good things so I'm pretty excited.

Until then, my ducks.


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