Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A Highly Biased Definitive Ranking of Tamora Pierce Series - Tortall Edition

Welcome to Holidailies Day 2! Being the time when I attempt to post on this blog every day, so I feel less guilty about leaving it to languish the rest of the year. 

This post is brought to you by the article I read on this topic that I strenuously disagreed with, both in methodology and conclusions. Obviously, the only answer was to do my own and fix the issues. All love to Tammy, whose books have kept me company for most of my life, and have provided unparalleled comfort reading in my adult years. Especially this year, when so many of my other childhood favorites don't hold up as well.

First, a caveat: I do not pretend this is anything other than my fangirl opinion. A literary critic, I am not. However, I have been reading (and re-reading) Tamora Pierce's books for almost two decades now and I have a deep love for the worlds and the author. 

Second, since the two worlds she writes in are so distinct, I thought I would split my posts between them because I find it very difficult to compare them.

Okay, introduction done. On to the ranking!


7. "Tortall: A Spy's Guide", "Tortall & Other Lands", other assorted shorts.

This ranking is based solely on the fact that the surrounding short stories and the guide are not really a series so much as a delightful peek into life before and after the stories we love so much. Some of them are particularly amusing - my personal favorite is the one with the young dragon Kitten as the narrator. But still not the concentrated amazing of a series.

6. "Tempests & Slaughter"

This prequel story to The Immortals, following Arram Draper as a student at Carthak is only this low because it's not finished yet. Based on the first book, it's quite possible that it will shoot up the ranking. It's very interesting reading her first male protagonist in the Tortall world, and also someone who is so academic and eccentric. I really enjoy seeing how she builds a character that's so well-established as an adult and I'm looking forward to the next two books. 

5. The Immortals Quartet

People may be ready at my door with pitchforks for this being so low, but hear me out. While Daine's rags to discovering she a demi-goddess story is brilliant and her animal companions are engaging and relatable (again, did I mention how much I LOVE Kitten?), I put it down here for two reasons: 

1) As one of her earliest series, there were definitely some problematic things that she addressed with more nuance in other books. 

2) It's such a wide-ranging story that it sometimes feels disjointed. I know she didn't get into writing longer books until much later in her publishing life. Plus, the length of these books makes them accessible to younger audiences which is super important. However, it's such a wild time for the realm that when you add establishing the rules of the gods and additional political intrigue that the Song of the Lioness was not concerned with (for good reason), and I also want there to be more attention given. 

Please don't hate me! I love Daine!

4. Song of the Lioness Quartet

This series has a special place in my heart because they were both the first ones I read (after multiple people saw I shared a name with Alanna and suggested them to me) and because I read "Alanna hated being a girl and wanted to become a knight instead" and I was immediately hooked. As a tomboy (read, future butch bisexual) I was intensely disgusted with the gender roles I was being expected to conform to and Alanna was a refuge. 

Despite my personal affinity for Alanna, I rank it fourth because it was her first series and when you compare it to the writing quality of her later work, Song of the Lioness doesn't hold a candle. It's a timeless theme, and I will be the first to talk about how revolutionary it was for the time it was published. I just usually make it a point to start my read-throughs with these books because going from her more recent work backward is a bit jarring, personally. 

3. Protector of the Small Quartet

This is where the rankings get really hard. Kel is distinct in the list of protagonists because she doesn't have magic, which is one of the reasons she is so admirable. After Alanna with her powerful gift, and Daine being a literal goddess, having the next hero in the line be just an ordinary girl with remarkable grit and a tendency to adopt the needy animals and humans who come to her is really important. 

Kel is not only impressive because of her personal accomplishments - not least of which is convincing the rigid Lord Wyldon of her fitness for page and squire training - but because of her heart. She cannot resist helping those who need her, and I personally love her anti-bullying campaign as a page and her dedication to saving those who would otherwise be in dire straights. Also, getting more time with Raoul, and getting an up-close and unflinching perspective on how the realm has changed after the one-two punch of Alanna's adventures and the mess around Jon's coronation and the Immortals war is a great way to remind us that the "happily ever after" endings of the previous series are just the beginning of a larger story of change and progress. It also really brilliantly points out how bloody difficult it is to move any country forward when one has to work with all parties to avoid civil war, especially when one party is willing to resort to violence and treachery to achieve their goals.

2. Trickster's Duo

As much as I love Alanna, I find myself gravitating to Alianne more so personality-wise, and while I try not to base my preferences on the books by the character's love interests, Nawat 5ever. Part of it is because George was always a favorite character, and she's so much George but with the steel and determination of Alanna. I love how much Aly notices, and how fast her mind works. I love the way she solves puzzles. I love how fast she goes from a bored teenager to a leader and teacher in a revolutionary force. I love the raka and the portrayal of the messiness of revolution. I love how much of an ass Kyprioth is. I love the characters of the conspirators. The ending of "Trickster's Queen" has made me cry 100% of the times I have read it. 

Also, while some of the ways she portrays colonialism are not perfect, I feel like some credit must be given for introducing me - a very sheltered teenager inhaling her books like air - to the idea that colonialism existed, and what it might look like. As a white middle-class person, I needed that nudge to look at my country and start to notice the cracks which led me to a lot of the beliefs I hold now after reading more and more on the topic, especially from authors who have lived it as their story. 

1. Beka Cooper Trilogy

To be honest, Beka getting such short shrift in the other article is the entire reason I started with this idea of a ranking list. That, plus I'm in the middle of re-listening to these audiobooks right now (after listening to Protector of the Small and the Trickster's Duo again) and I'm even more in awe of the quality of the narrative and voice.

Personally, I love a good procedural, and so from the first book I was hooked on Beka and her personality. Her voice is so approachable. She's principled, loyal, devoted to her friends (even the crooked ones). I also love the journal style, the particular dialect of the Lower City, Pounce (!), and how each story in the series gets a nuanced, detailed treatment. All three books are distinct in the issues they address, but they work together so well as a progression of Beka's character.

I also love how unflinching this series is at how it looks at the differences of how people are treated by class, and how it gives a commoner's view of how the realm got to the point it was 200 years later when Alanna came on the scene. It moves from serial killers to reckless counterfeiters to treason against the crown, and all of them expose different inequities and show how hard Beka works to address them. Also, painful as the twist at the end of "Mastiff" is (It took me a good 5-6 years to get over it enough to re-read the book) I cannot help but be in awe of how seamlessly she wove it in, with the hints really only jumping out to me on my second and third runs through the books. I can hate it all day long, but I have to recognize the literary prowess there and bow to it. 

For the sake of ending on a good note, did I mention Pounce? He's so much more developed as a character than in his iteration as Faithful, and I love every second of it. 

So there you have it! I will get to the Emelan books, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a couple of days. I have many thoughts on those as well. 

Until tomorrow,

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