Tamora Pierce takes the best elements of the three preceding SONG OF THE LIONESS books and polishes them to a fine sheen in Lioness Rampant, the final book of the quartet. She manages to pack swords-and-sorcery, a quest narrative, kind-hearted nobles and charming scoundrels, dastardly villains, truly affecting emotional arcs, and Alanna’s never-ending journey of self-discovery into a single volume without it feeling over-stuffed or slowing the narrative. Pierce’s skills as a writer were visibly improving as she worked on this series, and in Lioness Rampant, the reasons for her lasting and continued influence on the YA fantasy genre are obvious even when one considers how early in her career this quartet was published (1983 – 1988). This book, more than any of the others, really does require prior knowledge of important events and characters, so I absolutely do not recommend starting here.
Knight-Errant Alanna of Trebond and Olau and her faithful man-at-arms, Coram Smythesson, are traveling in search of adventure and purpose. Their quest has literally taken them off the provided Map of Tortall in the front of Lioness Rampant, to the far-off mountains at the Roof of the World. Alanna’s adoptive father, Sir Myles of Olau, has directed them to his friend, Nahom Jendrai, who translates some runes on a map Alanna was given at the end of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. The map points Alanna toward the Dominion Jewel, a legendary stone which grants unimaginable power to its wielder; this jewel, she thinks, will prove the legitimacy of her knighthood to any nay-sayers at court, as well as bolstering the strength and renown of Tortall.
Along the way, she picks up some new traveling companions: Liam Ironarm, a powerful Master of the unarmed Shang fighting style; Princess Thayet jian Wilima, exiled from the neighboring country of Sarain due to civil war; and Thayet’s teenaged bodyguard/maidservant, Buriram “Buri” Tourakom. Liam is, like Alanna, in search of adventure, while the two young women are hoping to settle in Tortall, where they have heard that a better life is possible. The inclusion of these three new characters brings to light how often Alanna has been forced to rely on herself throughout her adventures, and how lonely that kind of existence would be. While she still strikes out on her own for certain events throughout Lioness Rampant, she now has friends who will travel at her side or nurse her when she is injured, and it warmed my heart to see Alanna interact with them and come to trust them. A Shang Master is definitely good to bring on adventures, but Thayet and Buri are capable warriors, too, revealing that the world and its peoples are much more complex than the bits Alanna has experienced. Their friendship and camaraderie help expose her to an aspect of life which has previously been unavailable to Alanna, and assist in her maturation into a whole, well-rounded character.
At home in Tortall, the troubles hinted at in The Woman Who Rides Like a Man have gotten much, much worse: Prince Jonathan has, unexpectedly, become orphaned and has been named as King though not yet crowned; Thom grows more frail and weak with each passing day while Duke Roger is alive and well despite his death in In the Hand of the Goddess; open war between Thieves and Rogues wages in the streets of Corus and a man known only as “Claw” defies George’s rule. Each of these three men, who are uniquely dear to Alanna, will need her assistance if Tortall is to see any peace. One of the most useful and interesting things Alanna learns in Lioness Rampant is that, sometimes, not fighting is the only way to resolve a conflict. She first employs this at the Roof of the World, and then again in the heat of a literally earth-shaking battle, with tremendously satisfying results.
Any complaints I had about character behavior in previous books are nonexistent in Lioness Rampant; Pierce pulled out all the stops and redeemed all of them — particularly Jonathan, who takes his duties as the Voice of the Tribes very seriously, and uses his kingship to integrate Bazhir tribespeople into court as his personal guard and into the city as merchants and citizens. When Alanna hears Thayet’s stories of her childhood among the K’mir people and her neglectful father, she doesn’t tell Thayet how things should have been done, but instead discusses the difference between their cultures and offers that the princess will always have a home in Tortall if one is desired. Pierce matures Jonathan and Alanna both into strong-willed, compassionate adults who finally seem at home in their predestined roles as ruler and knight.
Despite my initial hesitation, and setting aside my issues with some aspects of character-building, I am glad that I read Lioness Rampant and the entirety of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet. Over the course of four books, Alanna grows as a character while Pierce grows as an author, and that twinned development was an enjoyable experience for me as a reader. I’m eager now to read more of Pierce’s body of work, especially since much of it is set in different areas of Tortall, and I’ll happily recommend this series to anyone who’s looking for fun and adventure.
Lioness Rampant is the fourth and final book in Tamora Pierce‘s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, which sees our heroine Alanna of Trebond (now a fully-fledged knight) go on a quest for the legendary Dominion Jewel, an artefact that can bring peace and security to the kingdom of Tortall. She’s accompanied by her man-at-arms Coram, but is soon joined by Liam Ironarm, one of the legendary Shang Dragons whose prowess in battle is matched by none.
Their attraction is immediate, but the journey takes them high into the mountains, where all manner of dangers await…
The story is neatly divided into two halves: the first detailing the challenges Alanna must face in order to attain the Dominion Jewel, and the dealing with the political upheavals she discovers on returning home. Her twin brother Thom has been dabbling in strange and powerful magic, and to her horror she learns that he’s resurrected the evil Duke Roger of Conté from the dead.
With Prince Jonathan’s coronation fast approaching, Alanna has to rally her allies and prepare for the worst: a possible coup that could plunge Tortall into war.
All things considered, this is a satisfying close to Alanna’s story (though she pops up in later books that centre on new heroines) having gone from a ten year old page in the first book, to an experienced knight at the close of this one. It’s not perfect — some of the major character deaths are rushed, and Roger has never been a particularly interesting or subtle villain (that goes ditto for his subordinates, whose loyalty to him is never explained).
What’s also unclear is why on earth Prince Jonathan and the rest of the court tolerate the presence of an undead man who tried to assassinate the queen in the past. What was up with that??
But then, this series has always been less about good versus evil and about Alanna’s personal growth. This is best exemplified in the resolution of the love triangle between Alanna, Prince Jonathan and George Cooper, which ends with Alanna being a realist about which man can truly make her happy, and who accepts her as she is.
I started reading Tamora Pierce back when I was ten years old, though it’s taken me this long to read her very first series. Looking back, she’s certainly improved as a writer since the eighties, but Alanna’s adventures still seem fresh and exciting. Even today, it’s astonishing to read about a young woman in a fantasy-medieval setting who has to deal with things like her monthly period and who is permitted to have guilt-free sex with men she’s attracted to.
Pierce was certainly ahead of her game when it came to gender issues, and with Alanna meeting and befriending the character of Thayet, we finally get the complex female friendship that had been missing in the previous books.
In fact, I don’t think Pierce gets nearly enough credit for what she’s brought to the YA fantasy genre: realistic female protagonists, complex and creative world-building, loveable characters infused with warmth and humour, intriguing and adventurous stories… it’s taken me a while, but I’m glad I finally caught up with her earliest contribution to the genre.
The Song of the Lioness — (1983-1988) Young adult. Publisher: Becoming a legend is not easy, as young Alanna of Trebond discovers when she disguises herself as a boy and begins training to be a knight. Alanna’s skills and stubbornness help her befriend Prince Jonathan and alienate his evil uncle, Duke Roger. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, this book is a rousing introduction to the intensely satisfying story of Alanna.