Two sisters' reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade books, inspired by their lovely library.
Tamora Pierce is the popular author of many historical fantasy books. Although she has written many different series that can be read out of order, I thought I’d make a list of all her books in chronological order, so someone interested in her would know where to start (note that I did not read the books in this order, and still understood the progression fine — I started with the Protector of the Small series and then backtracked to the Song of the Lioness). I have included a short review at the end of each series, treating each as a whole but occasionally referring to specific books.
Tortall: These books are aimed towards young adult readers (although the first few really should be middle grade), and all take place in the kingdom of Tortall, although they are set in different time periods with different main characters. The genre is young adult/middle grade, fantasy, adventure, and a little romance, and each series features either knights, mages, spies, or the medieval version of police men (and women).
Song of the Lioness Quartet:
Alanna: The First Adventure, Book 1
“From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.” And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins — one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.
In the Hand of the Goddess, Book 2
“I don’t want to fall in love. I just want to be a warrior maiden.” Still disguised as a boy, Alanna becomes a squire to none other than the prince of the realm. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna’s liege lord, he is also her best friend — and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a mysterious sorcerer threatens the prince’s life, it will take all of Alanna’s skill, strength, and magical power to protect him–even at the risk of revealing who she really is…
Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s second adventure continues the saga of a girl who dares to follow her dreams–and the magical destiny that awaits her.
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Book 3
“Let her prove herself worthy as a man.” Newly knighted, Alanna of Trebond seeks adventure in the vast desert of Tortall. Captured by fierce desert dwellers, she is forced to prove herself in a duel to the death — either she will be killed or she will be inducted into the tribe. Although she triumphs, dire challenges lie ahead. As her mythic fate would have it, Alanna soon becomes the tribe’s first female shaman — despite the desert dwellers’ grave fear of the foreign woman warrior. Alanna must fight to change the ancient tribal customs of the desert tribes — for their sake and for the sake of all Tortall.
Lioness Rampant, Book 4
“I’m not sure I want to be a hero anymore.” Having achieved her dream of becoming the first female knight errant, Alanna of Trebond is not sure what to do next. Perhaps being a knight errant is not all that Alanna needs….But Alanna must push her uncertainty aside when a new challenge arises. She must recover the Dominion Jewel, a legendary gem with enormous power for good — but only in the right hands. And she must work quickly. Tortall is in great danger, and Alanna’s archenemy, Duke Roger, is back — and more powerful than ever. In this final book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna discovers that she indeed has a future worthy of her mythic past — both as a warrior and as a woman.
This was Tamora’s first series, and although it is very good, and the best place to start, it is quite obvious it was her first as you continue to read her books. The writing style is not my favorite, but it is a great story and one of those typical classic fantasy series. I would recommend it to more of a middle grade audience than young adult, because I think I would have enjoyed both the writing style and the story if I had read it earlier on.
The Immortals Quartet:
Wild Magic, Book 1
Young Daine’s knack with horses gets her a job helping the royal horsemistress drive a herd of ponies to Tortall. Soon it becomes clear that Daine’s talent, as much as she struggles to hide it, is downright magical. Horses and other animals not only obey, but listen to her words. Daine, though, will have to learn to trust humans before she can come to terms with her powers, her past, and herself.
Wolf-Speaker, Book 2
When humans start cutting down trees and digging holes in peaceful Dunlath Valley, the wolves know that something is wrong. They send a messenger to the only human who will listen — Daine, a fourteen-year-old girl with the unpredictable power of wild magic. Daine and her closest companions heed the wolves’ cry for help. But the challenge they are about to face in the valley is greater than they can possibly imagine…
Emperor Mage, Book 3
Sent to Carthak as part of the Tortallan peace delegation, Daine finds herself in the middle of a sticky political situation. She doesn’t like the Carthaki practice of keeping slaves, but it’s not her place to say anything — she’s just there to heal the emperor’s birds. It’s extremely frustrating! What’s more, her power has grown in a mysterious way. As the peace talks stall, Daine puzzles over Carthak’s two-faced Emperor Ozorne. How can he be so caring with his birds and so cruel to his people? Daine is sure he’s planning something. Daine must fight the powerful Emperor Mage, knowing that the safety and peace of the realm depend on stopping Ozorne’s power-hungry schemes.
The Realms of the Gods, Book 4
During a dire battle against the fearsome Skinners, Daine and her mage teacher Numair are swept into the Divine Realms. Though happy to be alive, they are not where they want to be. They are desperately needed back home, where their old enemy, Ozorne, and his army of strange creatures are waging war against Tortall. Trapped in the mystical realms Daine discovers her mysterious parentage. And as these secrets of her past are revealed so is the treacherous way back to Tortall. So they embark on an extraordinary journey home, where the fate of all Tortall rests with Daine and her wild magic.
The first book was amazing, and I gobbled it right up. The second was extremely slow and disappointing, the third not much better, the fourth was much improved. I never expected to enjoy this series, because at the time I read Tamora’s books I was more fond of knights than animals and mages, but the first book, Wild Magic, blew me away for reasons I am still unsure about. The rest of the series was much slower paced and I found myself getting bored with it quickly.
Protector of the Small Quartet:
First Test, Book 1
In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year. It is a trial period that no male page has ever had to endure and one that separates the good natured Kel even more from her fellow trainees during the tough first year. But Kel Is not a girl to underestimate, as everyone is about to find out…
Page, Book 2
As the only female page in history to last beyond the first year of formal training to become a knight, 11-year-old Keladry of Mindelan has an uphill battle to fight. In addition to proving herself worthy of being a page, Kel spends her time defending first-year pages from bullies, staying on top of homework, conquering her paralyzing fear of heights, and keeping up with Lord Wyldon’s grueling physical training schedule. Kel’s detractors do everything in their power to thwart her progress, from tormenting her friends to sabotaging the Midwinter Festivities to kidnapping her maid and dog on the day of final examinations. The tide of resistance begins to turn slightly during the summer between Kel’s second and third years, when she leads a team of pages in defensive maneuvers against renegade bandits–coincidentally on the same day that she gets her first period.
Squire, Book 3
Fourteen-year-old Keladry of Mindelan is not your average squire. For one thing, she’s a girl. For another, she’s almost six feet tall. And most important of all, her ability to pass the Ordeal that soon confronts her may determine her kingdom’s future.
When Kel is chosen by the legendary Lord Raoul to be his squire, the conservatives of the realm hardly think she’s up to the job. Kel earns respect and admiration among the men, as well as the affection of a fellow squire.
Lady Knight, Book 4
In the final thrilling installment of Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, our sturdy young heroine, Keladry of Mindelan, has finally been knighted. Never one to rest on her laurels, Kel champs at the bit, ready to tackle the horrific magic killing devices she was shown in the Chamber of the Ordeal during her knighthood initiation. The huge, insectlike machines, “made of iron-coated giants’ bones, chains, pulleys, dagger-fingers and -toes, and a long whiplike tail,” feed on the souls of dead children and are systematically killing off the citizens and warriors of Tortall. Thoroughly disgusted to discover that not only is she not going to be assigned a combat post, but she has been placed in charge of a refugee camp instead, Kel, in her usual noble, stoic way, swallows her disappointment and sets out being the best refugee camp commander possible. Of course, destiny has a way of sneaking up on a young woman like Kel, and soon she is fulfilling the ordeal the Chamber set out for her… and then some.
This is by far my favorite series by Tamora Pierce. I love Kell’s personality and the story the books tell. The fourth is quite different from the first three (the third is my favorite), and took me two tries to actually read completely, but once I did I loved it just as much and it was a fantastic ending to the series. If you have read one of Tamora’s books and not enjoyed it very much, I encourage you to try again with this series.
Daughter of the Lioness Couplet:
Trickster’s Choice, Book 1
Alianne is the teenage daughter of the famed Alanna, the Lioness of Tortall. Aly is bold and brave like her mother, but she has no wish to become a knight. Instead she longs to follow in her father’s footsteps as a spy, an ambition her parents vehemently oppose.
After a furious argument Aly runs away, with disastrous consequences. Captured and sold as a slave in the Copper Isles, she discovers that this whole nightmare has not come about by chance – the Trickster God, Kyprioth, has plans for her…
Trickster’s Queen, Book 2
No longer a slave, Alianne is now spying as part of an underground rebellion against the colonial rulers of the Copper Isles. The people in the rebellion believe that a prophecy in which a new queen will rise up to take the throne is about to be realized. Aly is busy keeping the potential teenaged queen and her younger siblings safe, while also keeping her in the dark about her future.
This is a fantastic series about spies, rebellion, magic and romance, and it is quite clear that as the Tortall books progress, the audience gets older and older. I attempted to read the first book, Trickster’s Choice, two times before really loving it, but when I finished Trickster’s Queen I was quite satisfied with the series as a whole. Ali isn’t my favorite character, but I loved Nawat (an endearing crow-turned man), and I enjoyed the turn away from knights and change of scenery with the focus on the Copper Isles.
Beka Cooper Trilogy:
Terrier, Book 1
Beka Cooper is a rookie with the Provost’s Guard, and she’s been assigned to the Lower City. It’s a tough beat, but Beka can hear the voices of the dead on the wings of pigeons, and Beka’s birds clue her in to two major murderers on the loose. The rest of the Guard is busy investigating the fire opal killer, so it’s up to Beka to nab the Shadow Snake. Tamora Pierce begins a new Tortall trilogy introducing Beka Cooper, a young woman who lived 200 years before Pierce’s popular Alanna character. Pierce employs first-person narration, bringing readers even closer to a character that they will love for her unusual talents and tough personality.
Bloodhound, Book 2
Beka has earned quite a reputation in her five months as a full member of the Provost’s Guard and has already gone through four partners. Now with a new scent hound, Achoo, Beka is working again with Clary Goodwin, and they have been sent upriver on a special mission to Port Caynn. Counterfeit silver coins have been found in the marketplace there and threaten to undo the economy of all Tortall. With the help of the ghost-carrying pigeon, Slapper, and her street-corner dust spinners, Beka soon learns that the corruption is more deep-seated than just in the Rouge’s Court. No matter how dangerous, Beka isn’t likely to give up the scent. But if she isn’t careful, her reputation will be cut short – permanently.
Mastiff, Book 3
Having just lost her fiancé in a slave raid, Beka Cooper is glad for the distraction when she is called by Lord Gershom to join a secret Hunt. He informs Beka that she and her scent hound Achoo are, are the best team for this tricky job but tells her little else. As she learns more about the mission, though, she wishes she could turn and run for home. She and her partner, Tunstall – accompanied by Achoo and the star/cat Pounce – are joined by Farmer, a wide-eyed young mage who seems too green to be on a case of such magnitude. The team is soon enmeshed in a situation so rife with political corruption and betrayal that all of Beka’s formidable tracking abilities, fighting skills, and intuition will be needed. And they still might not be enough to keep her alive.
This is also a fantastic series geared more towards young adults with adventure, thief gangs, mystery and magic — one of the most unusual kinds I have ever read about. I loved the first book, the second was good, but I grew very tired of the story and extremely slow pace by the third book. If you want to read in chronological order, read this series first. But publication order makes more sense to me, and reading in that order you get to see Tamora’s writing style change and develop and the audience age get older and older.
Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales, Anthology
Collected here for the first time are all of the tales from the land of Tortall, featuring both previously unknown characters as well as old friends. Filling some gaps of time and interest, these stories, some of which have been published before, will lead Tammy’s fans, and new readers into one of the most intricately constructed worlds of modern fantasy.
My Comments: I loved this anthology, but only since I had already read all the Tortall books and therefore understood all the Tortall connected stories that are essentially epilogues to the other books. Some stories in this collection are original however, and I found myself not liking those as much, especially when Tamora wrote in genres other than medieval fantasy.
Emelan: The Emelan set of series is definitely middle grade, especially The Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets. I read the first two books in the Circle of Magic series, Sandry’s Book and Tris’s Book, but realized they were way too young for me and did not continue the quartet. After that, I have not read any of these books and therefore will not be giving any comments. I do however look forward to reading the Circle Reforged series in the future, especially The Will of the Empress which I have heard is more of a young adult and stand alone novel.
The Circle of Magic Quartet:
Sandry’s Book, Book 1
With her gift of weaving silk thread and creating light, Sandry is brought to the Winding Circle community. There she meets Briar, a former thief who has a way with plants; Daja, an outcast gifted at metalcraft; and Tris, whose connection with the weather unsettles everyone, including herself. At Winding Circle, the four misfits are taught how to use their magic – and to trust one another. But then disaster strikes their new home. Can Sandry weave together four kinds of magical power and save herself, her friends, and the one place where they’ve ever been accepted?
Tris’s Book, Book 2
Earthquake damage leaves Winding Circle vulnerable to pirate attack, so everyone – including the young mages-in-training Tris, Briar, Daja, and Sandry – is working to strengthen the community’s defenses. When Tris’s cousin Aymery comes to visit, he advises the “weather witch” to return to the family that exiled her, but she doesn’t wish to leave her friends to face the threat without her. As the onslaught begins, two things become terribly clear: The pirates have a powerful new weapon, and they have an accomplice within Winding Circle. But the attackers have failed to reckon with the fury of a young mage betrayed once too often and her very stubborn, very loyal friends…
Daja’s Book, Book 3
Outcast Trader Daja, along with her fellow mages-in-training, journeys from Winding Circle to the Gold Ridge Mountains, where drought threatens widespread famine. There, Daja creates an astonishing object: a living metal vine, and Daja’s dealings with her former people reawaken a longing for familiar ways. Daja must choose – should she return to the Traders or remain with the Winding Circle folk who have become her family?
Briar’s Book, Book 4
Four elements of power, four mages-in-training learning to control them. In Book 4 of the Circle of Magic Quartet, former “street rat” Briar leads a comfortable life at Winding Circle Temple, learning plant magic from his teacher Rosethorn. But street kids are still his friends, and when one of them gets sick, she turns to Briar for help. As the mysterious illness spreads, Sandry, Daja, and Tris join Briar and their teachers to fight the epidemic. But just as the situation improves, the unthinkable happens. Will Briar be able to save what he loves most?
The Circle Opens Quartet:
Magic Steps, Book 1
Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knows all about unusual magic – she herself spins and weaves it like thread. But when she witnessed a boy dancing a spell, even she is confounded. To her dismay, Sandry learns that as the mage who discovered the power of the young dancer, she must be his teacher. Before lessons can begin, however, Sandry and her uncle, Duke Vedris, get news of a mysterious murderer stalking a clan of local merchants. The killer employs the strangest magic of all: the ability to reduce essence to nothingness. As the murders mount and the killer grows bolder, Sandry’s teaching takes on a grave purpose. For it becomes clear to everyone that the killings can only be stopped by the combined workings of two people: the young teacher and her even younger student.
Street Magic, Book 2
It’s been four years since Briar Moss began his training as a plant mage, but he still hasn’t put his past behind him. Wandering through a Chammuri market, Briar comes across a street girl using powerful magic to polish stones for a merchant. He resolves to find her a teacher. But Briar understands the city’s gangs as well as he understands Evvy, the young mage. When gang warfare breaks out in Chammur, Briar discovers that the fiercest gang is seeking a stone mage to lead them to hidden gems. Briar once believed gangs offered protection, but now he and his mage may offer the only protection Evvy can count on. As Briar is swept up in a bloody conflict, he must decide whether he’s ready to make the final step away from his former life as a “street rat.”
Cold Fire, Book 3
Daja and Frostpine expect to have a peaceful winter’s visit with old friends in Kugisko, a port in the vast empire of Namon. But there is no peace when mysterious fires begin to blaze across the vulnerable city. Daja assists Bennat Ladradun, a local firefighter with a tragic past, to fight the flames. The two become fast friends-until they realize the fires have been deliberately set, and their relationship is deeply tested. Daja’s magic helps her track down the firestarter, but no magic can protect her or Ben from the effects of madness and betrayal.
Shatterglass, Book 4
Kethlun Warder was a gifted glassmaker until his world was shattered in a freak accident. Now his remaining glass magic is mixed with lightning, and Tris must teach him to control it (if she can teach him to control his temper first). But there’s more at stake than Keth’s education. With his strange magic, he creates glass balls that reflect the immediate past and expose the work of a murderer. If he can harness his power properly, he’ll be able to see the crimes as they take place. Keth and Tris race against time, and the local authorities, to identify a killer who’s living in plain sight.
The Circle Reforged:
The Will of the Empress, Book 1
The four mages of Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens books are together again, but things aren’t what they used to be. Daja, Briar, Tris and Sandry have grown up and grown apart since their days together at Winding Circle, and Sandry’s especially disappointed with the change. When Sandry’s uncle requests that her three old friends accompany her on a visit to Sandry’s vast lands within the Empire of Namorn, the young mages discover that they’ve landed in a trap. Namorn’s iron-willed Empress has plans for Sandry and her companions, and she has wily and powerful mages to help her. But so, of course, does Sandry – if only she can get them to work together… (from Barnes and Noble.com)
Melting Stones, Book 2
Bestselling author Tamora Pierce returns to the world of the Circle Opens quartet. This time, Evvy, a street urchin turned stone mage, must save an island nation. Four years have passed since Evvy left the streets of Chammur to begin her training as a stone mage. At fourteen, she’s unhappy to be on a new journey with her mentor, prickly green mage Rosethorn, who has been called to the Battle Islands to determine why the plants and animals there are dying. Evvy’s job is to listen and learn, but she can’t keep quiet and do nothing. With the help of Luvo, the living stone heart of a mountain, Evvy uncovers an important clue. Now, with the island on the brink of disaster, it’s up to Evvy to avert the destruction that looms ahead.
Battle Magic, Book 3
On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxe, mages Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor’s summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxe, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor’s prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxe to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?
Who knows what will come next….?
For more information, I recommend her website, which talks a lot about her books, current news, and many handy lists of her book recommendations. Although I love Tamora Pierce’s books, what I have come to love even more in the past few years are the books with her stamp of approval on them, either on these recommendation lists or with printed reviews on the book covers, such as The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (for more of these, I wrote a post a while back in thanks of Tamora’s recommendations).