Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure

November 27, 2015 classics, fantasy, readalong, Wendy 12

classic readalong alanna

Welcome to our discussion for Alanna: the First Adventure! Today we have a special guest joining us, the wonderful Aussie scifi/fantasy author Andrea K. Höst, author of the Touchstone trilogy and a Midnight Garden favorite, And All the Stars.

Our backgrounds: Wendy has never read this before, but both Layla and Andrea have. This series seems beloved by most fantasy fans, so it seemed like a great selection for our classics series.

*As always, please be aware there will be spoilers if you haven’t read this book yet.

vine-divider-finalWendy: Thanks for joining our chat today, Andrea!

Andrea: Glad to be here!  And it’s a great excuse to refresh my memory: I read the Alanna series a long time ago – long enough that I’ve forgotten most of it (except some vague memories of not going swimming).  It’s a book on the younger end (main character goes from eleven to thirteen).

Wendy: I was surprised to find how young Alanna was as the story began, and as we discussed briefly on Twitter, this first book reads like very young YA or even upper MG. I liked the plot very much (hello, secret girl knight in training!), but at times the transitions between scenes were a bit abrupt and episodic. And there are a lot of things that happen that just…happen, sometimes with very little explanation or back story, or just accepted because “Oh, it’s magick.” The world-building also doesn’t feel solidly real, facts and are suddenly related within a scene as just before you need the background info.

Andrea: I agree that this is more a series of events rather than a single coherent plot – though I don’t necessarily dislike that kind of story.  If it keeps me entertained and wanting to find out what happens next, I’m not going to insist on a traditional rising-action-climax-denouement structure.

20767544Wendy: Oh, I don’t mind episodic books, either–some of my favorite children’s books are nothing but that.  I just wish the transitions felt a bit more polished. But I very much enjoyed the descriptions of Alanna trying to control her magic. The parts in which she forces powerful elements to her will, in both the battle scenes and the healing ones, were some of the most exciting.

Layla: Hiiiii Andrea! Thanks for joining our chat today! I first read the Alanna stories when I was eleven-ish or so and I looooooooved them. (Of course, as a Catholic school-girl, I also thought they were super sinful, but that’s another story altogether.) Anyway, I think the first book is not the series’ strongest – in a lot of ways, it’s setting the stage for the next three books, which become more interesting and complex, although tbh, I haven’t read them in over fifteen years so this may be totally wrong. I think part of this is because – if I’m remembering correctly, I think the series was initially written as one book? And Pierce was asked to separate it into a series. For me, at least, the feeling of – “hey, the story just seems to drop off here, why?” – seemed particularly strong this read-along. Also, I realized that I need to apologize and that my favorite character, MAGIC CAT, does not make an appearance until the next book or so.

Andrea: Magic cats improve all books. I agree that we’re just setting up here (fascinating to picture this series as a single book!).  I’d have to say that in setting the stage it tends toward the heavy-handed, especially in the “good people all like Alanna and bad people are obvious” stakes, with additional deus ex machina (eg. Maude helps with the deception because the Goddess tells her to, George helps Alanna because of his Sight).  This does build up Alanna as a tool of the Goddess, but also takes away from the plot I originally thought I’d be going into (“determined girl successfully becomes a knight through sheer hard work”).  She gets in plenty of sheer hard work, but her progress is heavily sprinkled with magic swords and strong healing abilities.  View Spoiler »

Wendy: I had trouble with that, too. I kept expecting her to realize she need to act, and then she doesn’t–and though she feels some remorse, I’m surprised no one else calls her out on that. Like Jon, for instance, since Francis was one of his best friends. AND it’s the right thing to do. I agree about the use of magic as well,  I liked the way it was described, but I wasn’t always entirely satisfied with its appearances.

I suspect that readers who breeze through all four books at once will likely be less critical, since I hear the books improve as they go along. Liyana and Chachic also mentioned they liked the spinoff series about Alanna’s daughter even more.

Layla: I haven’t read those! Maybe it’s time to finally dive into those puppies.

Andrea: This is the introduction to a series, covering two years in quick succession, and The First Adventure is not a particularly subtle book where characterisation is concerned, with its crooked-toothed bully and later the major villain who Alanna “just knows” is a problem.  Alanna is stubborn and brave and clearly marked for a grand destiny.

Wendy: It is interesting to come into this story 30 years after it was published in 1983. We’ve come to groan at characters with red hair and purple eyes and so on, but tropes began as less commonplace elements at some point. I’d agree the characterizationisn’t hugely complex as a whole (Roger and Ralon are particularly cartoony), but I was sufficiently interested in all the players, and able to easily distinguish between everyone. I do like that the author took pains to develop some of Alanna’s trials slowly, and show her progress over time; the gradual build-up with her friendship with George, for example, and her training to defeat her Ralon. I admit to being a shocked when he broke her arm! I liked the aftermath of the defeat as well, when she says she enjoyed the actual fight, but not how she felt about it afterwards.

Andrea: I did laugh a little at the violet and sapphire eyes – but, heck – I also like ‘em!  [One of my current projects is a book set in an MMO and the full colour palette is entirely encouraged.]

Layla: As a romance reader I will never be tired of red hair and purple eyes as a signifier of particular beauty. ;) And yes! I listened to this on audiobook, and I wondered if it was just the quality of the narration that made Roger so obviously and immediately evil (the audiobook narrator is really rather good at making him sound like a manipulative mustache-twirling villain), but nope, apparently not.

Wendy: I confess, I rather enjoy both those things, too. I only ever mind it, as I mentioned in our Bookish Pet Peeves post, when the rest of the book is terrible; then my mind wanders and I start nitpicking. But if the bearer of glowing purple eyes is, say, a sexy guy who shapeshifts into a flying cat, I’m totally on board.

9394691Andrea: Jon is extremely virtuous and good, while his friends don’t get enough page time to be more than sketches.  George, however, is a lot of fun.  I vote for more George.

Layla: Jon is … more boring than I remembered him being as a child. (I have read ahead and find him EVEN MORE BORING AND DULL than I remembered him being in future books. He’s fine, but I don’t find his character arc in this book to be particularly interesting, though it could have really been given that Duke Roger is his uncle!) Whereas I really liked George this read-along! He’s charming! He’s interesting! He’s a good friend to Alanna and she trusts him! (No small feat.) And that scene where he basically gives that beautiful horse to Alanna! (!!!!)

Wendy: George is definitely the most intriguing one for me! Roguish thieves are always so charming. I’m interested in her twin brother Thom’s fate, too, in switching places with Alanna so he can study to become a sorcerer. I am rather worried he’ll turn out to be evil, what with the alarming words chosen to describe his brief appearance at the beginning. I’m assuming we meet up with him again at some point.

Layla: I ALSO thought Thom was going to end up being totally evil. It’s just the way that he’s described, and because Alanna is so good … so clearly one of them must be evil? (Also, his letters are weirdly mature for a preteen. I’m not going to spoil you on what happens to Thom though, so the mystery will remain unsolved and his true nature awaits your discovery in later books.)

Wendy: I was surprised and rather pleased that Alanna experiences changes in her body–not just the one typical having to bind her breasts scene, but recurring reminders that they are tender as she grows–and her first menstruation, which is singled out as the momentous occasion it is. We don’t see that much in books, and it would be nice to see that come up more often in coming of age stories. I think a lot of girls can relate to the comical mix of horror and outrage when Alanna finds out that she’s menstruating, and I like that George’s mother was there to matter-of-factly reassure her. And to briefly tell her that women enjoy sex, too.

Layla: I know! I think the book deals with that aspect of coming-of-age stuff fairly well. As an adult, I really appreciate all of this more than I did as an eleven year-old and – my opinion! – think these are good messages and good foundations to be laying in children’s fiction.

Wendy: Also–there is SO MUCH NAKEDNESS in this book. I wasn’t prepared for that.

Andrea: Perhaps that’s why the main thing I remember about this book is the swimming.  Just picture yourself as an 11-13 year old, chilling out on the bank watching all your naked male friends swimming…

Layla: Yes! A lot of naked sleeping, too.

13664914Andrea: The big thing that stands out for me in Alanna’s first adventure is the issues Alanna has with being female.  Alanna is adventurous and a willing fighter but (even though there has been the occasional female warrior in the past, and there’s a religious order of female warriors) she knows she won’t be allowed to follow the particular tradition she’s most interested in: that of the chivalric knight.  I don’t think the narrative itself is telling us that being female is a bad thing, but there are very few girls or women active in the story, and a few references to girls as silly, giggling things.  Alanna’s attitude to her gender borders on hatred – but that is born at least in part from how being a girl means not getting to do the things she so very much wants to do.  She seemed more settled with her big secret at the conclusion.

Wendy: It seemed rather natural to me that she would feel that way; it seems to me that Alanna has identified being a knight as the way out of her unhappy circumstances at home, and she thinks the only way to do that is to sublimate every shred of her femininity, to the point of rejecting all things womanly. I can understand her perceiving silliness and so on, but balancing this out with more prevalent strong female characters would have helped, since Mistress Cooper and Maude are in the story all too briefly. Along the way, however, several characters urge Alanna to see that she doesn’t have to compromise her warrior spirit just because she’s a girl, Coram, and later George and Jonathan in particular. “Ye’ll be happy only when ye learn t’live with who ye are.” I hope that she comes to accept the different parts of herself as the books progress.

Layla:  Coram also says, after Jon gets better: “‘Lass, ye’ve got to accept who ye are,’ he protested. ‘Ye can be a woman and still be a warrior.’” What I like about this scene is that Alanna is all, “I don’t want to be a woman, women are soft and silly!” And Coram is like, “You’re only being silly right now.” I do think it’s true that the novel suffers from a lack of other female characters – Mistress Cooper is there but she isn’t there much and some of the later books suffer a little from “Alanna is not like the other girls” – I think Alanna’s rejection of femininity in this book in particular is more of a structural problem than a personal problem (she’s been raised in a society that devalues women! and she thinks her friends will hate her once they discover her secrets!). I will say that I also really like how well George and Jon etc. handle it one they find out – Jon particularly finds out at a rather difficult moment (spirits attacking us! ahhhhh!) but takes it in stride nicely. I find many of the friendships in this book particularly moving, obvs. (Myles! George! Dawwww.)

Final Ratings:

Wendy: 3.5 stars I enjoyed reading this very much. I don’t have the raging love for it yet that many readers see to have, but perhaps that will change in the future books. I wish the writing had been more nuanced,, and more time had been spent on building up the other characters–and that we felt more as well. Overall, it was a fun book, but an uneven one for me; I probably would have loved this more if I’d read it as a child. But I am intrigued by Alanna’s story, and I definitely want to find out what happens to George and Thom!

Andrea: For me this is enjoyable, but isn’t one of my comfort re-read books.  This is partly because it is definitely aimed toward the younger reader end of the scale, but it’s also simply too heavy-handed for my tastes.

Layla: 3.5 stars, too, because this isn’t my favorite Alanna book (although for me at least, they only get better from here on out). I do have a RAGING LOVE for this series, though I guess that’s partly nostalgia – these books were so important to me as a kid (especially as one who didn’t feel very girly and felt constantly angry and rebellious!), and gave me permission to think about gender in more fluid and interesting ways. Thanks, books.

About Our Guest

andrea hostAndrea K. Höst is an Australian author who writes SFF about worlds where magic is real, women aren’t relegated to the background, and expectations are twisted slightly out of skew. She can be found at (often reviewing video games) or posting pictures of flowers and cats as @dragonflyautumn.

Andrea’s last release was The Pyramids of London, where a family takes on intrigue, automatons and the weather-vampires of Egypt.  Her upcoming releases include The Sleeping Life, in which the most powerful mage in the world can’t overcome chronic illness, and Snug Ship, where players of the world’s first truly virtual MMO join a race to gain a spaceship – and unravel the mystery behind the game.

Our thanks to Andrea for joining us today!

vine-divider-finalDecember Readalong: Mary Poppins

I have a particular fondness for Mary Poppins, and if you only know the film, you definitely need to read this with us! Mary is much sterner and sarcastic in the book, but underneath the gruff exterior, there’s a great deal of tenderness as well. Really, if you enjoy British humor and anecdotal stories with a fantastical twist, I can’t imagine you won’t love this as dearly as I do.

Title: Mary Poppinsmary poppins
Author: P.L. Travers
Discussion Date: Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
Hashtag: #tmgreadalong

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

This should be readily available at libraries, or it’s only $4.99 at Amazon for the ebook.

Please note that this discussion takes place on the Wednesday before Christmas.

For the future…

This is where we usually announce the month-after-next book to give you a heads up as well, but frankly I’m not sure whether we’ll be continuing the readalong series in 2016. We enjoy this series immensely, but it is a fair amount of work and  time commitment during a busy time for all three of us, and it seems that interest and participation seems to have lagged over the past year or so. I know we’ve encouraged readers to pick up some of these books even if you aren’t specifically joining us that month, but at this point, we’re still weighing pros and cons.

So…stay tuned until next month? We’ll be talking amongst ourselves on whether we continue, and if we do, what that might look like. Feedback is always welcome!

vine-divider-finalAre you one of those readers who loves Tamora Pierce and Alanna? We hope you’ll join us for Mary Poppins, too!

Wendy signature teal







12 Responses to “Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure”

  1. Carina Olsen

    Aw :D I looove this discussion post girls. <3 I'm so glad you all enjoyed this book a lot, despite not loving it, lol. I own all four books. But I'm nervous about reading them. Sigh. Seem to have heard that there is little romance, and a triangle, and that bothers me. Hmph. But Alanna sounds so awesome :D Ahh. I must read these books sometime soonish :) Thank you all for sharing. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #216

  2. agnes

    Interesting timing! I just reread these books, without realizing you were having this conversation! I loved this post, and agree with the overall review of this book.

    Tamora Pierce was one of the most important authors to me growing up (along with Patricia C Wrede), and in the past few years I’ve read some of her books circa 2000 and later(Trickster’s Choice series and the Beka Cooper series) and really, really enjoyed them. So I thought it would be fun to return to some of the originals.


    I did not like these books upon reread. As you mentioned, they feel episodic and the writing felt flat and the characters are more stereotypes than anything else. That being said, as someone slowly working on her own novel, I did find it refreshing to see Pierce’s progression as an author. I have huge respect for her, and it was nice to see that she didn’t always crank out perfect books.

  3. Alexa S.

    I really, really, really love that you guys read and discussed Alanna for this post! I agree that it’s very episodic, and that the characters aren’t quite as well-developed or complex. But the thing is,it doesn’t bother me as much as you’d think :) I think it’s because I know that it was published at a time when the publisher thought differently of the audience, and it worked then (my husband was a fan). I like binging this series when I read it, and I think it’ll always be a comfort read for me :)
    Alexa S. recently posted…Tunes & Tales: I Cry When I Laugh

  4. Gwen

    I did not join for the Alanna readalong but I am definitely interested in joining for the Mary Poppins readalong. I probably will not be around the Wednesday before Christmas (I’ll probably be on the road) and I will have to see if my library has a copy I can borrow, but regardless now I wanna read it!

    As far as the readalong group goes I understand it can be a lot of work. The only suggestion I can offer (which I am sure has been discussed already) is replace the moderator/host and continue for those who are interested. I am not super familiar with how it has been run in the past, but maybe someone with a bit more time or new blood can spark an interest.
    Gwen recently posted…Gift Guide: Bookish Candles

  5. Estara Swanberg

    Re: the (“determined girl successfully becomes a knight through sheer hard work”) – I think Tamora Pierce – after having become a well-known ya author (I think the Alanna series were her first books?) – decided that people had a point what with the goddess-gifted powers, and the Protector of the Small Quartet is my favourite of her series.

    A girl in the same kingdom as Alanna’s takes the king up on his offer of females being allowed to become a knight and because she has NOT extra powers she has to go through all the hardship and gain on her own and on the strength of her personality. Alanna in particular gets warned away from interfering with her or acknowledging her by her friends, because people will think she’ll have helped.

    I reread the Alanna books and the Protector of the Small Quartet recently (then again I discovered Pierce in my 30s ^^) and they hold up for me – I’ve bought her other series in ebook now and I still enjoy them (is now 48).
    Estara Swanberg recently posted…Cast in Honor

  6. Shanti

    I really liked this book when I read it in sixth grade, then I finished the series a couple of years ago. My maths teacher in middle school recommended the Protector of the Small Quartet to me, which I actually like a lot better (and I reread it every year!) Her writing definitely gets better. The Protector of the small books are based around the idea- what if the girl who wanted to be a night had no magic and gods. What if she was attainable. The first book is a little bit awkward, but it gets better and better from there. The Daine books are also awesome, and though they were more cliched, the Trickster ones about Alanna’s daughter are also fabulous. I just love Tortall, and Tamora’s girl power books are a delight :) Thanks for the discussion, ladies!
    Shanti recently posted…Mini Reviews for all the books I read recently

    • Layla

      Ah, interesting. One of my good friends really likes the Protector of the Small series, which I haven’t read, but it’s seeming like I need to pick that up. Funny how recommendations influence so much of your reading as a kid – the local children’s bookstore owner threw Alanna at me, which is how I ended up devouring those. Protector of the Small was juuuuust coming out as I had stopped reading YA. I think I’ll enjoy returning to Tortall though – you’re right in that the world is really really wonderful. :) Thanks for joining our discussion!!
      Layla recently posted…Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure

  7. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    It was so funny that I had just read the whole Alanna quarter only on early October myself. After my first read I felt very much like Wendy, but then I read the rest of the books and things improve, so now on my re-read the things that bothered me most don’t bother me anymore because I know they are addressed later on, maybe not all of them, because some simply are taken as rules of Tortall so to speak, but I was really happy with Alanna’s growth and evolution. And also with how the world-building progressed as well!

    I didn’t feel like Jon was too boring, but George was much more interesting as a character, that’s very true! He’s such a loveable rogue and one that takes even the nobles at their face value and not hold their high status against them until proven wrong! I still find it odd how drawn he was towards Alanna as Alan on sight, but maybe it’s one of those magic things, but it still feels odd that he wanted to be friends with a page that had just arrived on the city and without ulterior motives to have info about things at court.

    I’m quite excited about reading Mary Poppins because as usual for me, I haven’t read it before! I’ve seen the movie quite a few times, but never read the book!

    *sad face* I can understand if you ladies stopped doing the challenge, it sure takes a lot of work, but I’ve loved discovering so many classics and discussing them with you! So, if you decide to keep up with it in the end, I’m totally signing up for 2016!!
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Friday Reads: Alanna, the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce for #tmgreadalong!!

    • Andrea K

      George outright states that he befriends ‘Alan’ because his Sight tells him to, so there is a textual explanation for his sudden friendship. Jon adds her to his friend group, I think, because she stands up for herself.
      Andrea K recently posted…A Lioness in the Garden at Midnight

    • Layla

      I think I read Mary Poppins as a child? Maybe? I honestly can’t remember. It’s quite possible I haven’t read it at all. I have seen the movie quite a lot, though!

      And yay! I’m glad the series improved for you as you read more of it. I think that was pretty much the case for me too – the first book is short, there’s lots that isn’t resolved, and the world becomes more interesting and complicated as you get more into it. Jon was just not my favorite this re-read, but I think it’s in part because I’d almost totally forgotten George’s existence and I was like, “Hey, this dude is pretty interesting, I’d like to know more about him!” How could I have forgotten him ENTIRELY? 12 year old me had a bias, probably. I also like how fair George is to Jon – “no big, come pal around with us, it’s not risky AT ALL.”

      <3 <3 <3 Pili!!!
      Layla recently posted…Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure

  8. Brenda

    Unfortunately, I am still waiting on my copy of Alanna to come in, so I wasn’t able to read it. I will join in once I’ve read it though. I totally understand that doing these discussions each month is a huge amount of work and time commitment for you all, I for one really appreciate it. You’ve introduced me to so many books that I might have otherwise missed out on reading, and they are always so seasonally appropriate too :) Whatever you decide, thanks for all the lovely recommendations!!
    Brenda recently posted…MG Review: I’m With Cupid by Anna Staniszewski

    • Layla

      It’s a quick read once you get your paws on it! (It’s both short and fast-paced.) And, on the bright side, if you like it, there are more in the series (and Alanna IMO is more interesting when she grows up) and more in the world. Both are great.

      I’ve loved doing these too. I’ve also been introduced to things I wouldn’t have otherwise read, like Animorphs and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and gotten to re-read old favorites that I hadn’t picked up in yeeeeaaars.
      Layla recently posted…Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure