Re-read Tamora Pierce’s First Test, Page, and Squire, the first three books in the awkwardly-but-accurately named Protector of the Small quartet. (Lady Knight will be out next year.) I read Squire when it came out this summer (suckered into buying it in hardcover by Ms. Pierce’s displaying the beautiful cover at Boskone; tricky, that), but my plan to re-read them in sequence was foiled when I cleverly managed to bury the first somewhere in summer storage.
These are set in a different world from her Circle books, and pitched at a slightly older level. Ten years after the proclamation that girls could be trained as knights, the first has finally stepped forth. (Alanna of Trebond, now King’s Champion, disguised herself as a boy to win her knight’s shield; see the The Song of the Lioness quartet, Pierce’s first books.) Keladry of Mindelan is ten when she enters training, big for her age, entirely unromantic (in the shining-armor sense, not the Cupid sense), quiet, stubborn, and possessed of a fierce hatred for bullies. (She also has no magic or close personal relationships with deities whatsoever. This is refreshing.) She is forced into a probationary year by the training master, a stiff conservative; this is the topic of the first book. Page deals with the rest of her time as a page, while Squire covers the last four years of her training before she is knighted.
I like Kel a lot, and the company she keeps is enjoyable as well. (A couple of her more casual friends have sufficiently small parts that I can never remember who they are, but this is probably inherent in the school setting and the limited word count available to young adult novels.) The stories are a good mix of adventures and interesting training bits; I haven’t the faintest desire to joust, or weave, or do fancy woodwork, or any of the other things that I read about in novels, but I always find it rather soothing. (Occasionally this leads to a slightly episodic feel, because there isn’t a specific overall plot arc like Alanna’s enmity for Roger of Conté.) I’m not sure that these break a lot of new ground, but I like the sensible and realistic tone they bring to the sub-genre, and enjoy them a lot.