Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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."
Alanna, The First Adventure is one of those novels that everyone tells you about. Apparently, a lot of women read this as middle graders and found is genre-breaking, and satisfying. And for the time it was published (1983) it was. But the problem is, a ground-breaking idea can't hold a book by itself, when (30 years later) it's up against phenomenal writing of the same concept, by other authors. So if I had read this in the '80s, I probably would have been utterly charmed by the concept alone.
As it is today- being a fan of strong female protagonists, and YA, having read these things for the past 25 years- I just wasn't impressed. Feel free to throw tomatoes and stop reading right now; I fully understand I'm in the minority here.
Here are my issues:
- The writing is wooden. We get a lot of the tell, not the show, when it comes to Alanna's emotional state.
- I also think things are understated in terms of how grueling it is to train that level of physicality, let alone all the "she just ignored the pain and went on" scenes. That kind of intense labor is difficult, and I'd believe her strength more if it was developed, instead of "oh, by the way, she sneaked off to train at night". Does the girl never sleep??
- Also, I feel like most of the characters are underdeveloped. This could be a length thing- this first book spans 3 years, all the tough stuff- but we don't get internal processes, only reactions.
- The audiobook version is horrible. Truly, one of the worst narrators I've encountered (Trini Alvarado); she was a mumbler, paused at line breaks but not the end of sentences, rushed everything, used the wrong vocal inflection, and butchered her accents.
- And lastly, Alanna has zero weaknesses, which smacks of a Mary Sue. She's female, which is a big secret, but she's faster, more thoughtful, more magickal, more honest, and all-around better than every other character in the book.
And here are the things that made me cheer:
- George. I'm a rogues fan, and I think George was (physically, and by reputation) one of the most fleshed-out characters in the book.
- Also, that Alanna starts in this book at age 10. This feels more Middle Grade in concept than YA, but part of that is because she starts young- which makes her ignorance, optimism, and sudden emotional fits as she enters puberty all the more believable.
I'm going to keep reading the series, because I know I'm supposed to love it. But if it doesn't get much better by the end of Book 2, I'm quitting it.
Labels: alanna, book review, female protagonist, literary friday, medieval fantasy, middle grade fiction, tamora pierce