Children's Literature - Christopher Moning
Ogres and strange creatures threaten the Kingdom of Tortall. It has been decided that girls should be allowed to become knights. Ten-year-old Keladry wishes to pursue the arduous training toward knighthood. But the training master, Lord Wyldon, insists that Kel endure a one-year probationary period. What follows is a sort of medieval boot camp, replete with rugged training, ruthless instructors, and hazing pages. Kel is determined to survive her probation. She finds a friend in Neal, a fellow knight in training. When Kel and her classmates are confronted with real-life attackers, Kel proves her worth to Lord Wyldon--and to the Kingdom of Tortall. This is the first episode in the "Protector of the Small" fantasy series.
Ten years after the proclamation that girls could train to be knights, there is finally a willing candidate. Keladry of Mendelan is determined to follow the example of her brothers and become a knight. Kel is told that she must undergo a probationary year to be allowed to fulfill her dream. The training master, Lord Wyldon, well known for his dislike of female warriors, has decided to do whatever is necessary to change her mind. Kel is a very different type of heroine for this author. Unlike Alanna, whom readers met in the Song of the Lioness Quartet (Random, 19891997), Kel is not masquerading as a boy, and she has no magic, wild or otherwise, as Daine employed in the Immortals Quartet (Random, 19971998). She is an attractive, wellrounded character in her own right. The world of Tortall has evolved in Pierce's books, and Kel is much closer to most of the general populationshe lives without any magical abilities in a country full of hideous and dangerous immortals. Kel survives on strength of character, determination, and hard work. Familiar faces from the earlier series do appear but are tangential to Kel and her trials in this initial book in the Protector of the Small series. Pierce's familiarity with her setting means that she can concentrate on plot and character, without spending a great deal of time explaining the background to the story. Unlike Circle of Magic: Sandry's Story (Scholastic, 1997/VOYA December 1997), there is a much more fluent storytelling. Pierce's fans will relish a new series, and firsttime readers are in store for a treat. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined asgrades6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999, Random, Ages 12 to 15, 216p, $16. Reviewer: Betsy Fraser
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Ten years after the proclamation that girls are eligible for a page's training at the court of King Jonathan of Tortall, 10-year-old Keladry applies and is accepted, but on probation, a condition never forced on male applicants. Resolutely accepting the challenge, the hostility of the royal training master, and harassment by fellow pages, Kel makes her way through this difficult year. Trained from early childhood by stoic Yamani warriors, she is capable of hiding her feelings, fearless in a fight, and willing to work hard to develop the necessary physical capacity. Her sympathy and support for the underdog and her sense of chivalry earn her the admiration of a group of fellow pages. She also befriends the sparrows that live outside her window and wins over a difficult horse. Kel performs well in her first real battle and is grudgingly allowed to stay for another year of training. The medieval/magical world of Tortall has been the setting for eight of the author's titles; in First Test, the first of a new series, this fantasy world is clear and well developed, allowing the book to stand on its own. Characters who may be familiar to readers of the previous titles are reintroduced successfully or remain on the sidelines. The scrappy Kel is an appealing and believable girl whose struggles to integrate a formerly all-male world are both familiar and freshly told. This is smooth storytelling and a satisfying read.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Alanna the Lioness, the Kino Champion, could hardly contain her glee. Baron Piers of Mindeldan had written to King Jonathan to say that his daughter wished to be a page. Alanna fought to sit still as she watched Wyldon of Cavall, the royal training master, read the barons letter. Seated across his desk from them, the king watched the trainig master as sharply as his Champion did. Lord Wyldon was known for his dislike of female warriors.
It had been ten long years since the proclamation that girls might attempt a page’s training Alanna had nearly given up hope that such a girl- or the kind of family that would allow her to do so-,existed in Tortall, but at last she had come forward. Keladry of Mindelan would not have to hide her sex for eight years as Alanna had done. Keladry would prove to the world that girls could be knights. And she would not be friendless. Alanna had plans to help Keladry through the first few years. It never occurred to the Champion that anyone might object.
Alanna, half turned to see Wyldon better. Surely he'd read the letter at least twice! From this side the puffy scars from his battle to save the younger princes and princess were starkly visible; Wyldod’s right arm was in a sling yet from that fight. Alanna rubbed fingers that itched with the urge to apply healing magic. Wyldon had the idea that suffering pain made a warrior stronger. He would not thank her if she tried to heal him now.
Goddess bless, she thought tiredly. How will I ever get on with him if I'm to help this girl Keladry?
Wyldon was not flexible: he'd proved that to the entire court over and over. If he were any stiffer, Alanna thought wryly, I’d paint a design on him and use him for a shield. He's got no sense of humor and he rejects change just because it's change.
Still, she had to admit that his teaching worked. During the Immortals War of the spring and early summer, when legendary creatures had joined with the realm’s human enemies to take the kingdom, the squires and pages had been forced into battle. They had done well, thanks to their training by Wyldon and the teachers he had picked.
At last Lord Wyldon returned the letter to King Jonathan, who placed it on his desk. "The baron and the baroness of Mindelan are faithful servants of the crown,” the king remarked. “We would not have this treaty with the Yamani Islands were it not for them. You will have read that their daughter received some warrior training at the Yamani court, so it would appear that Keladry has an aptitude."
Lord Wyldon resettled his arm in its sling. "I did not agree to this, Your Majesty."
Alanna was about to say that he didn’t have to agree when she saw the king give the tiniest shake of the head. Clenching her jaws, she kept her remark to herself as King Jonathan raised his eyebrows.
"Your predecessor agreed," he reminded Wyldon. "And you, my lord, implied agreement when you accepted the post of training master."
"That is a lawyer's reply, sire,” Wyldon replied stiffly, a slight flush rising in his cean-shaven cheeks.
"Then here is a king's: we desire this girl to train as a page."
And that is that, Alanna thought, satisfied. She might be the kind of knight who would argue with her king, at least in private, but Wyldon would never let himself do so.
The training master absently rubbed the arm in its linen sling. At last he bowed in his chair. "May we compromise, sire?"
Alanna stiffened. She hated that word! "Com---" she began to say.
The king silenced her with a look. "What do you want, my lord?"
"In all honesty," said the training master, thinking aloud, "I had thought that our noble parents loved their daughters too much to place them in so hard a life."
"Not everyone is afraid to do anything new," Alanna replied sharply.
"Lioness," said the king, his voice dangerously quiet. Alanna clenched her fists. What was going on? Was Jonathan inclined to give way to the man who'd saved his children?
Wyldon's eyes met hers squarely. "Your bias is known, Lady Alanna." To the king he said, "Surely the girl's parents cannot be aware of the difficulties she will encounter."
"Baron Piers and Lady Ilane are not fools” replied King Jonathan. "They have given us three good, worthy knights already,"
Lord Wyldon gave a reluctant nod. Anders, Inness, and Conal of Mindelan were credits to their training. The realm would feel the loss of Anders-whose war wounds could never heal entirely-from the active duty rolls. It would take years to replace those who were killed or maimed in the Immortals War.
"Sire, please, think this through,” Wyldon said. "We need the realm’s sons. Girls are fragile, more emotional, easier to frighten. They are not as strong in their arms and shoulders as men. They tire easily. This girl would get any warriors who serve with her killed on some dark night.
Alanna started to get up. This time King Jonathan walked out from behind his desk. Standing beside his Champion, he gripped one of her shoulders, keeping her in her chair.
".But I will be fair," Wyldon continued. His brown eyes were hard. “Let her be on probation for a year. By the end of the summer field camp, if she has not convinced me of her ability to keep up, she must go home."
"Who judges her fitness?" inquired the king.
Wyldon’s lips tightened. "Who but the training master, sire? I have the most experience in evaluating the young for their roles as future knights."
Alanna turned to stare at the king. "No boy has ever undergone a probationary period!" she cried.
Wyldon raised his good shoulder in a shrug. "Perhaps they should. For now, I will not tender my resignation over this, provided I judge whether this girl stays or goes in one year's time."
The king weighed the request. Alanna fidgeted. She knew Lord Wyldon meant his threat, and the crown needed him. Too many great nobles, dismayed by the changes in Tortall. since Jonathan’s coronation, felt that Wyldon was their voice at court. If he resigned, the king and queen would find it hard to get support for their future changes.
At last King Jonathan said, "Though we do not always agree, my lord, you know I respect you because you are fair and honorable. I would hate to see that fairness, that honor, tainted in any way. Keladry of Mindelan shall have a year's probation."
From the Paperback edition.