In the Hand of the Goddess: Squire Alan(na) delivers some hard knocks

Reposting to include Rebecca’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce YA fantasy book reviewsIn the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment of Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, and while Pierce does provide a fair amount of backstory and repetition of key details from the previous book, Alanna, I recommend reading the books in sequence. By starting at the beginning, readers will have a better appreciation for the trials and challenges Alanna experiences in her quest to become a knight, as well as her struggle to maintain her false identity as “Alan,” since only boys are allowed to train in the king’s service. This review may contain a few spoilers for key events in Alanna, but I’ll do my best to keep them vague.

The book opens as Squire Alanna is visited by the Great Mother Goddess, who bestows divine wisdom upon the girl, as well as a magical amulet and a purple-eyed, black-furred cat. Alanna dubs him Faithful, and he quickly proves to be a useful and loyal companion whose meows sound remarkably like words to her. From that point, In the Hand of the Goddess follows the four years of Alanna’s continued studies and training as a squire and a magically Gifted healer, her friendships and rivalries with the other squires, and her deepening relationships with Prince Jonathan and George Cooper, the King of Thieves. Overshadowing the everyday events of her life are her concerns about Prince Jonathan’s uncle Roger, the Duke of Conté. The Duke appears to be a friendly courtier, assisting with magical studies for any Gifted page or squire, but Alanna is convinced that he’s been scheming to usurp the throne for decades. Without any solid evidence, however, she’s forced to bide her time until Roger either proves his innocence or guilt.

In the Hand of the Goddess (Song of the Lioness)While Alanna conducts covert investigations, we get to see a little more of Tortall and the surrounding regions, particularly toward the north and the City of the Gods, where Gifted children train to be magic users or scholars. Alanna’s twin brother, Thom, is apparently talented enough to become the youngest Master ever at the age of seventeen, and their few scenes together made me wish that Pierce had spent time developing his training as well, so that readers would have more of an appreciation for his level of skill. I’m not impressed when Thom carelessly rattles an entire building with a single word, but when Alanna wins a difficult duel by expertly wielding a heavy sword in either hand, that has real weight because I’m aware of how many mornings she’s spent training for that very task.

Additionally, as Alanna slowly expands the circle of people who know her true identity, their reactions ring true to their established characters, and Alanna’s determination to be her best self is both admirable and excellently portrayed. She wrestles with complex emotions: intense jealousy when Prince Jonathan begins a fling with a courtier, terror of her upcoming Ordeal of Knighthood, and conflict regarding her friendship and potential infatuation with George. Pierce doesn’t condescend to her audience, and I enjoyed her fair and even-handed treatment of Alanna’s emotional life, including the sometimes inappropriate ways in which Alanna reacts to situations. Alanna is still a teenager in In the Hand of the Goddess, and she absolutely behaves like one, though she learns some valuable lessons from her mistakes. The maturation and growth of her character is one of my favorite aspects of this series, particularly because Pierce writes honestly about how hard growing up can be.

Prince Jonathan, a figure worthy of Alanna’s unwavering admiration in Alanna, comes across as more of a cad in In the Hand of the Goddess. Though he’s known since she was a page that “Alan” is really Alanna, he only shows interest in Alanna as a woman once he sees her kitted up in makeup and a fancy gown, at which point his friendship is replaced by the pursuit of her as a sexual partner. Considering that Alanna is the prince’s personal squire, this complicates their relationship to an extreme, uncomfortable degree. I much prefer her easy companionship with George, who treats Alanna as a human being with feelings and desires beyond his own, and who announces his attraction to her without expectations of reciprocation. It’s his genuine respect for her, along with his willingness to let things happen as they may, which prevents any formation of the dreaded “YA love triangle.”

In the Hand of the Goddess feels like a natural continuation of Alanna; they’d probably be published as a single novel in today’s market. The action scenes, though few, are well-choreographed, and the dialogue between Alanna and her friends is pure fun. While her beloved brother Thom seems like a stranger to me (and, increasingly, to Alanna herself), her sibling-like bonds with squires Gary and Raoul more than make up the difference. The third SONG OF THE LIONESS book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, takes Alanna out of the castle and into the wider world, where her training and determination will be put to some harsh tests. Stay tuned!

~Jana NymanSong of the Lioness series (4 book series) Kindle Edition


In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce YA fantasy book reviewsThis is the second book in Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, in which Alanna of Trebond struggles to attain knighthood despite having to keep her true identity a secret. Unbeknownst to all but her twin brother and a few trusted friends, Alanna is a young woman who has spent the last few years disguised as a boy. Though she’s strong and determined, the life she’s chosen for herself is still comprised of one challenge after another, from border skirmishes to enemies at court.

In the opening pages she has two strange encounters: the first with a purple-eyed black cat who becomes her constant companion, and secondly with the Mother Goddess herself, who tells she must face her three fears: the Ordeal of Knighthood, the offer of love, and Duke Roger of Conté: the Prince’s cousin. Alanna has distrusted the man for years, blaming him for several misfortunes that befell the royal family, but she’s never been able to prove anything.

And such is the plot of the story. As Tortall fights against the marauding Tusaine on its northern border, Alanna becomes increasingly suspicious of Roger’s treachery, and combines her fighting skills with a little detective work to smoke him out. She also faces the Ordeal of Knighthood, the ceremony that every squire must endure should they wish to become a knight, but which leaves all its participants severely shaken (and forbidden to speak of their experience).

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFinally, she must negotiate the feelings of Jonathan and George Cooper, the former the Prince of Tortall and the latter the King of the Rogues, both of whom have expressed romantic interest in her. But don’t worry, it’s barely a love triangle, and most of the focus is on Alanna’s complex feelings towards what love means to her and how it affects her identity.

Tamora Pierce weaves together a great story: In the Hand of the Goddess is simultaneously a fantasy, an adventure, a coming-of-age, a mystery and a romance. Alanna is a fantastic heroine, one who knows she has to work hard to achieve her goals, and who is a blend of strength and vulnerability; wise in some matters and naïve in others. From her bad temper to her perseverance, she’s a wonderfully three-dimensional character.

There’s also plenty to be said for her supporting cast (Jonathan, George, Sir Myles, Thom) all of whom feel like real people after just a few pages, and her world-building grows more detailed and interesting with each instalment. If anything, the final confrontation between Alanna and Roger is a little anticlimactic, and the only other significant female character is a one-note femme fatale, but the story’s strengths more than make up for this.

If you’ve come this far, you’ll want to have the next book: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man close at hand.

~Rebecca Fisher

Published in 1984. From Tamora Pierce, the second book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet, honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award. Alanna, disguised as a boy, becomes a squire to none other than the heir to the throne. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna’s liege lord, he is also her best friend—and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a vicious sorcerer threatens the prince’s life, it will take all of Alanna’s skill, strength, and magical power to protect him, even at the risk of surrendering her dreams…

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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6 comments

  1. Tamora Pierce is a huge favorite at the bookstore and we have trouble keeping her books on the shelves. I’ll be on the lookout for these; hey sound great.

    • They’re quite good, and I can see (in hindsight) how they started Pierce down the path of fame and influence that she has today.

  2. Kevin Wei /

    I love Tamora Pierce and have been recently considering re-reading the Beka Cooper series; maybe I’ll read the Alanna books first instead, though! Nice review!

    • Thanks, Kevin! The Song of the Lioness series is where Pierce started as a writer, so it’s interesting to see how she’s grown and shaped her craft over time. I hope you give the series a shot!

  3. I found Pierce’s Protector of the Small series more memorable reading than her initial Song of the Lioness series, but my favorites are the two Trickster’s books about Alanna’s daughter Ally.

    • After reading the Song of the Lioness series, I really want to find copies of the Trickster’s books! :) I’m way behind on reading any of Pierce’s books, which is really embarrassing.

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