This post is a collaboration with my bb sister, who is brilliant and talented and drew the pictures of Alanna and Bitterblue below and wrote the posts for Sophie and Bitterblue. Truth be told, I kind of drew a blank when lisal825 suggested this meme, and when I realized that (duh!) I should do Alanna, I remembered that she'd drawn me a picture of Alanna as a birthday gift that I could use for this post, which made me think to ask her to participate too. And it was fun! (For me, at least! I think it was kind of like additional homework for her, lol.)
Alanna of Trébond
from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
Alanna's story revolves around one of the most delightful ever tropes in fiction: crossdressing! Ill-mannered, tomboy Alanna is about to be sent to a convent to train to be a court lady while her bookish twin Thom is sent to court to train to be a knight. Both deeply unhappy about this situation, they hatch an unlikely plot to pretend they are twin brothers and take each other' spots: Alanna will train at the palace as 'Alan' and Thom will take her spot at the convent, where he'll be tutored in magic instead of curtsying. Thanks to a combination of negligence and totally unrealistic fairness from the adults at Trébond, they succeed! At court, Alanna proceeds to defeat bullies, befriend princes, learn magic, fight bad guys, and basically just kick a lot of ass.
why i ♥ her...
Alanna is an incredibly endearing, fun, and memorable YA character. She's a redhead with your stereotypical temper to match,
But those are just the shiny, grumpy, lovable trappings of Alanna. I think the real reason I still like Alanna's story so much is that her entire journey — besides being a hero's journey — is about self-acceptance.
Initially Alanna rejects who she is. As she dons a boy's clothes and lives a boy's life in order to pursue her dreams of being a knight, it sometimes seems like 'Alan' is who Alanna wishes she really was. She says she wants to prove that a girl can do anything a boy can do, but there's no consideration of what a girl can do. Alanna deals with her gender in terms of nuisances and weaknesses — her smallness, her lack of upper body strength, her period. Alanna's discomfort with herself isn't limited to being a girl. Most of Alanna's issues stem from her upbringing: Alanna's mother died in childbirth, and her heartbroken father never recovered. He hated the magic that failed to save her, he hated the children that took her from him, and for all intents and purposes he shut down after she died. And so Alanna grew up with more freedom than most young girls would have been allowed (which is probably the only reason she had a chance to figure out she wanted to be a knight!), but she also grew up with no female role model, fear of her magical powers, and a lot of misconceptions about love. And her journey over the course of the series is to accept and find value in all of these things. Alanna embraces being a woman. She cultivates her Gift and becomes a powerful mage, specializing in healing as payment for the lives she takes in battle. She forms friendships with other women and broadens her black and white ideas of gender roles. She learns to accept the love of people around her — the love of her friends, Myles' paternal love, and the romantic interest of Jon and George.
Because so much of what Alanna thought she wanted was predicated on ideas that were half-childish and half the product of her emotionally-stunted upbringing, she has a lot to figure out. For example, she always said she'd reveal herself as a woman once she won her shield and then leave the capital forever to become a roving knight. She figured there'd be nothing to come back for, that everyone would hate her. But that ends up not being the case. Does she really want to spend her days roaming far and wide with nothing to tie her down? But even if she decides the ideas of a husband and a home to return to are appealing, it's something else entirely if that husband is Jon and that home is the palace! The idea of being queen and presiding over the court ladies she never wanted to be one of, of being duty-bound to provide heirs is understandably terrifying to Alanna. The second half of the series really focuses on Alanna figuring out what she really wants and finding a balance between her competing desires.
Alanna was just, like. She was like the holy grail of heroes for me when I was a teenager. I loved her. LOVED. She's the reason I was in fandom to begin with, and I would be hard-pressed to think of another female character who's had a bigger influence on my identity as a reader and as a fan. (I'd say Nancy Drew, but Nancy is more of a collection of beloved, well-worn plots than a character to me.) And I've never met a warrior princess I didn't like since I read her books. Eowyn. Igraine. Mulan. Sif. Starbuck and Jaina Solo, in a way. Etcetera! I have a type, and it is Alanna's fault.
i'd recommend the books to...
These books are blessedly short and filled with everything a tween/teen girl could wish for. Magic jewels! Evil sorcerers! Handsome princes! Honest thieves! Enchanted swords! Creepy demons! Meddlesome goddesses! Talking cats! Evil twins! I also think it contains an unusually productive love triangle. Alanna works through her issues w/ love, magic, and being a girl in her relationships with Jon and particularly Liam, whose designs on her both conflict with her wants and needs. Jon takes it for granted that Alanna will marry him and responds to her cautiousness with demands and ultimatums. Liam cannot accept Alanna's magic or reconcile how she balances being a woman and warrior. By the end when Alanna knows what she wants for herself, George -- the guy who accepted her from the beginning and didn't ask her for more than she wanted to give -- is there to ask her what it is. AND SHE SAYS IT'S HIM AND IT'S BASICALLY PERFECT. :')
from Bitterblue (in The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy) by Kristin Cashore
A crown and a legacy of lies is all that the eighteen-year-old queen’s father left her for an inheritance. King Leck was revered as a great ruler, but in reality Bitterblue’s father was a tyrant and a monster. During his reign, Leck was able to ensnare the favor of his subjects by using his grace, a supernatural ability that enabled him to fabricate lies that would be believed by anyone without question. For thirty-five terrifying years he manipulated the people of his court and his kingdom until his death, leaving a bruised and broken nation in his wake.
As Bitterblue attempts to tighten her grasp on reality and the throne, she begins to realize exactly how deeply her father's rule has scarred her kingdom; even buried beneath the earth, her father’s rule over Monsea may be even stronger than hers. In order to uncover his secrets that have eluded her, Bitterblue must tell her own lies, venture further into her father’s labyrinth of deception, find a lock to match a great many keys, and decide what defines a great monarch – and whether she will become as great a queen as her father wished.
(Caitie: You should write book summaries; I kind of want to read this now!)
why i ♥ her...
Bitterblue was a character I never expected to take center stage as a protagonist of her own story, in part because she wasn’t graced, and also because she wasn’t a monster. She was only a little girl when she made her first appearance in Graceling and was rescued by Po and Katsa from the clutches of her father, who was a corrupt man graced with the power to tell the most magnificent, terrifying lies — lies everybody believed. As an eighteen year-old, however, we meet a girl not entirely different from the one we met in Graceling, but now she is Queen of Monsea.
As her kingdom is recovering from the 35-year nightmare of her father’s reign, Bitterblue knows one thing is paramount if she is to be a successful monarch: she must tell the truth. However this is difficult to do when she doesn't know who to trust and when her advisors are lying to her about the state of her cities, the levels of illiteracy, the crumblings schools and houses, and the political unrest.
This leaves her feeling very weak and unable to control the inner workings of her kingdom. Tired of being sheltered from the truth, she sneaks out of the castle each night to discover it for herself. Sadly, to do this, she ironically must lie in order to keep her identity a secret, which becomes more and more unbearable as she grows closer and closer to the friends she’s made in the city. At the same time, she faces betrayal from those in the palace. I admire Bitterblue's struggle to tell as much of the truth as she can and to pursue truth in the face of lies, especially lies that are comforting.
i'd recommend the books to...
Caitie: This continues our trend of YA fantasy starring a strong female protagonist, so if that's your kind of thing the Kristin Cashore novels are supposed to be great. Kristen Cashore's books are also unusually diverse for the YA fantasy genre. Two of the books feature non-white protagonists, and there are several gay and bisexual characters.
from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Sophie is the protagonist of Howl’s Moving Castle, a novel I’ve read exactly eleven times, and it is my absolute favorite book in the entire world. It was one of those diamond-in-the-roughs that you only find every once in a while, and it is completely my cup of tea. It has an innovative, Harry-Potter-esq, magical-realism setting based on the Edwardian period, comedy, and an adorable romance that's as infuriating as it is funny.
Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters, which according to popular superstition means that she is doomed to fail miserably at anything she pursues, especially if she decides to seek her fortune. Sophie works in the family business, her deceased father's renowned hat-shop. Without much company as she stitches trimmings and tulle to bonnets and tom-o-shanters, Sophie finds her life to be a bit mundane, even if she does have a flair for making fashionable hats. But her hum-drum existence is altered forever when on the evening of May Day, Sophie encounters none other than the Witch of the Waste, the most feared of sorceresses, who upon coming to purchase a hat finds herself rather disappointed, and transforms Sophie into an old woman!
Now that she is a woman of at least ninety, Sophie decides it's now or never to seek out her fortune, and along the way she is offered a place in the great, towering, turreted, moving castle of the fearsome wizard Howl, reputed to have a taste for devouring people's hearts. Now that Sophie is elderly, she deems it unlikely that a casanova like Howl would be interested in her old heart, and upon taking up residency in the moving castle she finds life there to be anything but what she expected. For one, the fire in the hearth speaks, the place is a mess infested with spiders (which is unfortunate, since Sophie has volunteered as a cleaning lady), the door out and in leads to four different places, and Howl (despite the fact he does not devour young ladies’ hearts) is a dreadful slitherer-outerer who has a score to settle with the very witch who cursed Sophie. As Sophie settles into the household of one of the most eccentric wizards in all of Ingary, she’ll cast her own spells, nearly catch a falling star, put on some seven-league boots, and discover that being the eldest of three won’t always keep her from her dreams, or from breaking her curse...
why i ♥ her...
Most heroines who are cursed would set out to break the curse, but Sophie is an unusual, very matter-of-fact heroine who sees the curse as a a prod to embrace her foibles, dismiss her insecurities, and set out to seek her fortune. At first Sophie believes her appearance as an old woman reflects her true inner self, because she thinks of herself as boring and dull. But as she becomes accustomed to being an old woman, she learns to love herself and accepts her appearance, even finding that the freedom of being ninety rather than seventeen suits her. She does whatever she wants and says whatever she likes without worrying about propriety or being crippled by her insecurities. As a seventeen year-old girl she disliked her appearance, her clumsiness, and her awkwardness, but once she is cursed she realizes these things are not that important. She no longer cares about how she looks or feeling awkward and finally begins to express herself. Her new outlook continues when she reverts back to her true age. Lots of girls think of themselves as ugly, and so did Sophie once, but by the end of the book she doesn’t mind her hair, even labeling it ‘ginger-gold’ with a tone of pride. (Caitie: It's sort of like Beauty and the Beast, but the opposite? You get some similar themes, but Sophie's transformation enormously boosts her confidence. She was a lonely, quiet girl shut up in a hat shop before, and the curse sends her off on her merry way into the world, rather than shutting her up in hiding until a handsome boy comes along and kisses her before the last rose petal falls or whatever. She also saves Howl's life!)
i'd recommend the book to...
I’ve noticed after lending this book out to friends and family that usually people who enjoy J.K. Rowling, Tamora Pierce, and Kristin Cashore also like these books. Its witty and fun, a breath of fresh air in comparison to all of the try-hard paranormal romances that have swarmed the Teen section's shelves lately. I recommend this book because Sophie is a great, complex female protagonist.
(Caitie: The romance is also really fun. Howl is so whimsical and a relentless drama queen, whereas Sophie is so straightforward and down to earth. They complete each other!
And see the Hayao Miyazaki movie, which is really beautiful. I'm not the biggest fan of anime, but I really liked it. It's a bit different from the book, but Calcifer is adorbs and it really brings the whole moving castle aspect of the book to life, since that's kind of hard to wrap your head around when you're reading it!)
Thanks for reading our post! You should definitely check out the other entries, too! The ones I've read so far have been amazing and really insightful!